Monday, December 27 2021
Seventy-one reflections on 2021
Every day, I am deflated by how many choose to be gig economy snipers. Across the spectrum, people dedicate real time to finding the fatal flaw in someone they don’t know. The collective will not survive this impulse. Against all of this, I’m filled with gratitude. I became my own friend at the age of 54. My group chats kept me sane. Heidi and I learned to have people over for dinner only on Sunday nights.
As with last year, I asked people to write down what they were feeling in the moment. The responses are presented unedited. How else to look at life on life’s terms? If you enjoy what you read today, consider subscribing.
Hannah Black: In 2021 we learned things we didn’t want to know about mass death, singular death, the weakness of affective ties and the near-impossibility of social transformation. This was an evil year. Let’s never forgive those who made it so.
Lucy Sante: This year, beginning in mid-February, saw a personal transformation so deep and earth-shaking that almost everything else faded in comparison. Now that the formerly unthinkable has become (kinda) normalized, a familiar panic is beginning to resurface, and I’m beginning to consider that I might have to repatriate to the EU—where I no longer have people—in just a few years. Sure, Covid is worrisome and deadly, but not as much as fascism.
Molly Young: I went off my meds and tried to turn my home office into a Faraday cage.
Wayne Koestenbaum: In 2021, three of my writing idols died: Janet Malcolm, Friederike Mayröcker, Joan Didion.
Meaghan Garvey: A month ago I cried at the death of Spock, at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I mean like full-on weeping. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” My god!! It was the first Star Trek thing I’d ever seen; my husband, who (not to brag) is Gen X, insisted we watch, and now instead of getting shitfaced wasted we watch Star Trek: The Next Generation every night. Four months ago I’d never seen Star Trek and didn’t have a husband. Now I live in Texas and say things like, “God, Lieutenant Worf is so... deep...” when they pierce him with holographic swords at the Age of Ascension ritual.
Jia Tolentino: I wish I had ever written a fan letter to Greg Tate.
Kazim Ali: In 2020 I made dances, but in 2021 I made drawings. I may do both in 2022. In 2021 I boxed more, practiced yoga less, turned 50. I read books by Kristjana Gunnars, Gayatri Spivak, Willa Cather, Talal Asad, Abdelkabir Khatibi, Kim Thúy, Etel Adnan, Louis Armand, Dionne Brand, Achille Mbembe and probably 50 other people. I planted fava beans, harvested basil, bouldered, skated, and cut my hair. I worried about wildfires, flash floods, tornadoes and the exacerbation of the pandemic’s effects caused by economic inequity. Though I live in southern California I did not think about earthquakes very much. The only national border I have crossed since 2019 is the Canadian border, once at Sarnia, once at Windsor. I went to Ontario in the winter. Some people who have lived both in California and in other places around the country say they don’t like the year-round temperate weather and that they miss (or would miss) the seasons. I am not one of those people.
Sarah Schulman: The level of symbolic thinking by frightened obedient people reached a new height.
Catherine Lacey: Last year I bought a Holy Death candle. This year I finished burning it and buried it.
Elvia Wilk: I had a bad stomach ache for a lot of 2021. I stopped working for one month in order to read novels, watch television, and go into credit card debt. Now my stomach feels better. For late-night convalescent reading, I recommend The Wall by Marlen Haushofer.
Yasmina Price: Repetition and rupture have been heavy on my mind. This is sort of always the case because the way I listen to music is through obsessive replaying, fixating on one song/album until something breaks and then I’m able to listen elsewhere. With this, some recurring fixation on Baraka’s “changing same” and the shifting continuities that sustain life alongside the ones that unevenly distribute death. It sometimes really feels like even refusing the abysmal carcerality of linear/progressive/bordered time is little reassurance, given that the truer temporal shapes of cycles/glitches/returns are themselves marked by so much horror. We have lost so many, we’re in constant mourning, no amount of loss seems enough to change things (and maybe that’s not an expectation to place on loss anyway). It’s impossible to imagine a compass that would be steady, errant, urgent, adaptable enough to point a way out. And yet—on rupture—I’m maybe too naïve to not still be stubbornly attached to the impossible being the only demand we have left. Towards a program of complete disorder (Fanon), towards the poetry of the future (Marx), towards the margin as a space of radical openness (hooks).
Melvin Gibbs: What comes to mind as I reflect on the past year is the thought that maturity requires learning how to deal with death. Homing in on this thought brings to my mind the sad fact that, in many parts of the world, there are children that have had this aspect of maturity forced on them. I the comfort of my home I contrast their forced maturity with the immaturity of those around the world who refuse to share.
This, the contrast between those who have to deal with tangible loss and those who are scared of intangible loss is, for me, the defining dichotomy of this historical moment. Those who have will need to give to those who’ve suffered loss. To me, it seems that the issue of whether that giving will be regarded as a form of thievery on the part of those who’ve suffered loss, or a form of community building on the part of those who are doing the giving will determine the course of human life on this planet in the coming years.
Lisa Borst: Around the time people started openly having parties, it stopped feeling imperative to listen to music that sounded like crowds (the Staple Singers, Dead shows, shape-note singing), which was what I’d been doing for most of the pandemic, I guess listening for some indication that crowds were still who the future belonged to. I’m not sure if I cooled it with that stuff because of some shift in the world-historical order or because my nice headphones broke around then, but in any case it seemed to be time to be in the world. An album I loved from this year was Daniel Bachman’s Axacan, which makes generous room for the most basic kinds of world-noise: waves, bugs, radio static, unidentifiable ambient sounds I associate with going camping. I listened to that a bunch of times.
Lavinia Greenlaw: Last New Year’s Eve, London was back in lockdown and when midnight struck, I walked out into the street and heard the city roar. It was the sound of millions of people intent on an ending—as if we could propel ourselves beyond the pandemic on a wave of collective noise. In 2021, I realised that for all the time I need alone, I love the humans, their minor heroics and actual presence. I lost all sense of time and I published a book (about making noise) that scares me. I didn’t listen to a lot of music because I was afraid it might hurt. And then my little brother was dying and I turned up the volume. Music met me in what I now had to feel.
Teddy Blanks: My favorite thing to happen in music this year was Sparks, a longtime favorite, getting two movies made by directors I love. I saw online that some hardcore Sparks fans were sort of annoyed by this development in that classic “my favorite band is mainstream now” way. But I was thrilled they had a moment — they deserve it. And anyway, from conversations with friends, I got the impression that people were only vaguely aware of the movies and still confused about what exactly Sparks was and why two guys in their 70s were suddenly all over the place.
Other than that, I decided to embody the cliché of a guy entering his late 30s by going through a real “classic rock phase.” For me this took the form of very satisfying deep-dives through the discographies of Dylan, Warren Zevon, and Steely Dan. And of course I spent the night Sondheim died listening to a dozen of my favorite numbers of his and crying my eyes out.
Lawrence English: Memories fading...
Shadows cast, indelible
We shine in the dark
Elif Batuman: How can I ever forget 2021, the year I turned both 29 and 72 and lost the ability to perceive linear time?
Kiera Mulhern: I’ve spent the last months of this still cursed year doing therapy with kids at an elementary school in the Bronx. They really do teach you everything. My friend Michelle Luong said, “Aren’t we all in an abusive relationship with the state?” I have a patient in third grade who drew a person, head and shoulders like in a Zoom frame, with a capital A instead of eyes or nose and a grin so toothy it looked like a cage. On his T-shirt, my patient wrote “help,” and explained, that “He’s trapped. Somebody needs to come help him. Not me though—I’m busy. But I can draw him some stars to look at, here, in the sky.”
Katrina Forrester: 2021 was a relentless mix of death, loss, shock, grief, mourning, grey, stasis, fear, plagues, deferral, displacement, repetition, crisis, desire, renewal, change, fire, storms, droughts, possibility, joy, love, anticipation, fear again, loss again, mourning still, hope (always hope). I watched a lot of end-of-history TV: Sex and the City, Seinfeld, House. The only fitting response is the question Amy Winehouse taught me to ask: “What kind of fuckery is this?”
Greil Marcus: In our lives, too much death this year, friends and a beloved brother-in-law. Two from Parkinson's, one just weeks after we last saw him, my oldest friend, when the only person he still recognized was his wife. A horrible disease. Every time I leave the house to walk our dog, down our street, with the dog finding something new there every time, and me too, I think of how lucky we are, and how we’ve learned to take nothing for granted. Or really to remember to take nothing for granted, because often we do. In the middle of a long drought, every time I take a shower, I wonder if I’ll be able to do that next year.
People worth reading: John McWhorter, Gina Arnold
Movies not worth seeing despite critical headstands: The Power of the Dog, Passing
TV worth watching (old): Peaky Blinders
Book worth reading: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow
Record to play: onetwothree by onetwothree—the return of the Zurich punks. I can’t believe Klaudia Schifferle is 66 and still making art as if she’s 12, with “Paper Dolls”
Books rereading: The Healing by Gayl Jones, The Ciderhouse Rules by John Irving (picked it up from a Little Library, remembering how good the movie was, not realizing it was the day the Supreme Court showed its hand on overturning Roe v. Wade).
Sarah Leonard: This year had some bright sides, and I don’t think it’s just the cold medicine talking. The last 2021 issue of my baby Lux just went to press and watching this Stuart Hall video this morning is making my fingers tingle. (That might be the cold medicine.) I’m probably ending the year the way I started it: slightly ill, slightly uneasy, and still an absolute New York chauvinist who is happy to spend these off-kilter days with the people and city I love the best.
Alan Licht: When 2021 started, Milford Graves, Barbara Ess, Peter Rehberg, and Greg Tate were all still alive; now they’re gone. You can only hope that four people were born this year who will grow up to enrich others’ lives, achieve the same level of excellence, and have the same impact, as each one of them did.
Finlay Clark (of Still House Plants): Choppy / tidal / brief glimpses of turquoise-sea-blue light shines shining like shivering like cat fur / Away! Down a crevice following some vague, defeated, fatigued monster/carnage / There will never be enough rain to wash away our crimes / Opening the milk is icky / hello my gay lesbian cat man woman painter lover, how do you want me today? / Soaking in the sounds of Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, Riga / We spent two perfect days together, I mean really perfect, it was even perfect that you thought I was coming out the other entrance at Canada Water, so when you came to find me you looked wild in your eyes like dolphins reflecting the dark night on their iridescent backs; it was perfect to eat strawberries and olives with you in the sun, I don’t know where you went and I hope that you are ok / opening my eyes and my body is either light or heavy, I have to start my day by running to the top of a hill and hearing the birds above me! They’re above me! / Time feels as though it has changed, but it can’t have changed, unless I have changed and I am now looking at a different face of this two-headed Janus / Screwed up, so screwed up / Let me sleep.
AJ Daulerio: When Sasha gave the prompt the first thought that came to mind was that “2021 is the year I stopped thinking of myself as a broken person. God, finally.” His response was “damn heavy” and I knew I’d whiffed because that was not the response I’d imagined. “Great, wow!” or “Amazing! Good for you!” or even a “Dang, cool!” But it’s a big deal—human kintsugi—so I wanted to acknowledge it. Also, here’s a list of people who inspired in 2021: Swamp Dogg. Vince Staples. Patricia Lockwood. PJ Vogt. Thanks for the opportunity to rewrite this.
Hua Hsu: Too. Many. Passwords.
Rachel Seville Tashjian: Man, you know what I realized this year? Tyler, the Creator is AMAZING. He’s an auteur, for real, for real. I’m a longtime Tyler listener; I always thought he had great style and he’s clearly one of the most charismatic dudes alive. So IGOR was him exposing his freakiness as the foundation for great pop art—as no mere provocateur—but this year’s Call Me If You Get Lost is the album that really got me. It was ferocious and fun. He’s always had the attitude that I can’t not be this way, only now this way also includes being explosively, terrifyingly creative. And an ambassador of the greatest quality in contemporary life: OPULENCE, BABY! When I saw his BET performance of “Lumberjack”—which is like somehow a totally menacing combo of Wes Anderson and Dr. Seuss?!—I realized that this is a guy who is going to have a loooong career. It was so wonderful that an artist asserted themselves that way this year, when most of us are not thinking about longevity or the arc of our output at all.
David Grubbs: This is what I get for waiting to respond to the prompt about what I feel about 2021. As I write, we’re nearly a week into the Omicron surge in New York, some ungodly number of people I know have tested positive in the last several days, and my family is dreading taking our final hoarded at-home tests to determine whether we're getting in a car tomorrow morning and driving 10-12 hours to visit relatives. A couple of weeks ago perhaps I had feelings about 2021. (I listened to an enormous amount of music; I was able to do a lot of writing; I returned to in-person teaching, thankfully. I played music pretty much every day, including wrangling with the violin, a terrifically distracting new perplexity.) At this moment my feelings extend to cover, I don’t know, the last couple of days? Only today?
Tiffany Sia: A year in the time of being “prolific” has simply been a furious production to hide the humiliating and horrifying buried in the personal. I did a very good job of killing time.
Margaret Sundell: For me, 2021 has been all about the fifth anniversary of 4Columns.org. Five years ago, the fledgling magazine dusted off Baudelaire’s old injunction—that criticism should be partial, passionate, and political—to see what it could teach us in the 21st century. Quite a lot, it turns out.
François J. Bonnet: This year I have read many stories: the story of a man lost in a dark world, searching for a telepathic love, the story of an apprentice torturer whose destiny is to find a way to replace the dying Sun. In these many stories, I also met fanatics lost in an Italian valley, a false prophet howling on the moors, a journalist plunged into the mysteries of New England, a couple on the run on the shores of the Mediterranean, a man projected into the cosmos, a blended family magnetized by a house where life unfolds out of time, according to the seasons. In all these stories, there are evasions, attempts to escape or on the contrary attractions, magnetism. This balancing act, it seems, has accompanied me all year long. Attraction and Escapism, or how to be out of the world, in the world. It is a never-ending learning process, it seems.
Harmony Holiday: 2021: I like that the metronome is counting up and undermining any urge for plateau. The “abolish police” crowd became the police, dutifully, predictably, in 2021, and the purgatory between recovery and relapse was palpable on a global scale. It feels like what’s coming is a balancing of those scales and more urgent music. I’m listening to Duke Ellington and Moodymann and minding my business. Found a rabbit in my front yard and I named him Comrade, my final nod to the abolitionist trend before it collapses. Friendship is important now, and love is, everything else is a bit too trendy and expedient.
Merve Emre: I am more content at the end of this year than I have been at any point during the last five years. It feels embarrassing to admit this, but I like that my private world has grown smaller, and the people in it more precious to me.
Kaleem Hawa: Mister Softee creating ripples across my life; a big hole in the ground, a small hole in my earlobe; 20,000 people out for Gaza in the streets of Manhattan; bike stolen, bike replaced; two heartbreaks; Beirut (a third); Black Unity Trio; a flower in moonwater; a really good sandwich; raw liver (x3) and cooked intestines (x4); an “experience” of “art” on an “island”; an amusement park; lesbian Led Zeppelin tribute band; many, many Egyptians. Not sure who wrote this but it’s stuck in my mind: things don’t always get better, but they do get further away.
Ian Fenton: Made my first proper reverb. Beyond that, Hidetaka Miyazaki has a lot to answer for.
Oren Ambarchi: When I look back at 2021 it’s impossible not to think of two important people whom we lost. Peter Rehberg’s death was a huge huge shock that I’m still coming to terms with. He was incredibly supportive of me and many other artists. He had such energy and enthusiasm and made things happen quickly without dilly dallying. People also tend to forget what an incredible artist he was. And he was bloody hilarious. I loved him and will really miss him.
Alvin Lucier was a giant who I was fortunate to work with, both as a player, whilst also having the honour to release many of his recent works on Black Truffle. Alvin’s music was and is absolutely huge for me, so getting to know the man and play his pieces with his guidance was a big thrill for me. I feel so lucky to have spent so much time with him, listening, recording, rehearsing, touring, hanging out, laughing, eating lobster (he loved lobster), I learned so much from him.
Speaking of inspiring, my partner Crys and I just spent a few days with Annea Lockwood in Athens. Annea is so amazing and inspiring to be around, ask anyone who has met her. You simply cannot be swept off your feet by this woman—I and many others have a deep affection for her. On our last day together in Athens we climbed a steep mountain whilst the wind was blowing a gale, and Annea led the way! Then we went out for cocktails. She’s 82! You gotta love the oldies, they are still at it and won't stop creating and loving life until they drop, it’s simply amazing.
Carla Mayer: I keep thinking it’s quiet because the music just ended then notice the music was never playing. (A joyful statement if it’s not obvious.)
Today could be last February.
Buoys, energy, underscore: Lijadu Sisters [spring], Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up on My Baby” [summer], Gillian Welch’s Revelator & Waxahatchee’s St. Cloud (the singles more than the albums) [fall], Okkyung Lee’s Yeo-Neun [winter], Magda Szabó’s The Door, Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, the 73 movies I watched with the fam since the pandemic started that continue to be part of our conversation, and still the TV pantheon that Begins with B (ask Sasha), the birds (hello juncos, hello crows, hello pileated woodpeckers), Wangechi Mutu’s I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?, the undeniable young (under 40) people I know and love and work with.
Alex Ross: I will let William Butler Yeats speak on my behalf: “Some will ask if I believe in the actual existence of my circuits of sun and moon. To such a question I can but answer that if sometimes, overwhelmed by miracle as all men must be when in the midst of it, I have taken such periods literally, my reason has soon recovered; and now that the system stands out clearly in my imagination I regard them as stylistic arrangements of experience comparable to the cubes in the drawing of Wyndham Lewis and to the ovoids in the sculpture of Brancusi. They have helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice.”
Jason Williamson: I’m starting to get sick of having to mind what I say online because I’m now perceived as fortunate. As rich. As being on a permanent vacation. They tell me I shouldn’t forget my musical roots. Why? So they can feel better about the fact I’ve given it all up to sit back next to them again? In their fortress of flat ideas and pointless purist bullshit! If this year has flattened the divide and made it wider within my industry, what the fuck am I supposed to do about that? Fuck you. Life’s shit when you’re eating it and good when you’re not.
Rachel Kushner: The year glowed for me with an exciting private radioactivity because I discovered the leftist crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette. He wasn’t, as far as I know, “a swinger” like James Ellroy insists in his blurb on the back of The Mad and the Bad, generous as it may be to want to believe such a thing. Manchette was an agoraphobic alcoholic graphomaniac pro-situ, without the constitution “to swing.” In fact, in almost every sex scene, in the eight Manchette novels I read this year, novels that are like darts that hit their targets on every page, in every moment, anyhow in almost every sex scene, the men fail to perform. But it’s kind of pathetic and sweet that another man would project his admiration of Manchette as cocksmanship. I get it. Because I am not a man, but a woman, my admiration has manifested as love, similarly confused. But would I want to deal with this guy, Manchette, chain-smoking, drunk, a nervous wreck with serious health problems who could not leave the house, even if I find the shadows under his eyes delicious? Probably not. Plus, he’s dead. And I’m contentedly and totally committed to someone else. Et cetera. All the same, it was a year in which Jean-Patrick and I ran away together and in a mere glance we greedily and arrogantly enjoyed a crystallized complicity. We floated above the world. We saw together how terrible and ridiculous everything is. We blew shit up, while doing absolutely nothing, not even opening the curtain.
Ottessa Moshfegh: 2021 was an enormous year of achievements in new creative territories, but I have failed in some ways to be sympathetic to those who are closest to me.
Sam Karmel of CS + Kreme: 2021. A deluge of learning, love, and adaptation. Self-reflection was in abundance to brain hurt levels after spending the vast majority in isolation by myself in my house and working on a country property landscaping feeling like i was the last human alive. Finding love halfway in made the 2021 adventure come to life in beautiful ways. Food was yum and lifted the soul. Music making was honestly hard but the push through was very rewarding, surfing the waves of creativity and accepting times of quiet. PLUR!
Hannah Epperson: In every other year of my life, I’d have picked up a piece of trash on the sidewalk and schlepped it around until I found a waste bin. In every other year of my life, I’d have walked down said sidewalk unencumbered by facemask, unsightly purple halfmoons hanging heavy under the patented New Mom Bloodshot Glazzies and an unwieldy alleyway discard stroller filled up with a noisy, baby-shaped sack of milk fats. This isn’t every other year of my life. This is the year I deliberately drove a squawking baby buggy over a wad of paper trash on my sidewalk day after day, month after month, until - behold! a new image was born. 2021 was in every sense a year of crumplage and tramplage as a practice. Surely I am the better for it? (For more on crumplage, see Jirí Kolár.)
Emily Lordi: For me, 2021 was the year when pandemic-as-outrage morphed into pandemic-as-way-of-life. Not great. Everything was oriented around work and loss, and sometimes (often?) these obsessions converged. Since this summer, I’ve been writing an essay that is indebted to Greg Tate, who left us this month. So when I think about this year, I think about that.
Lizzy Harding: Another outrageous year of tending to my rich inner life and respecting my elders. Other than that, I started wearing silver, got two haircuts, gave four haircuts, ruined a moka pot, and moved to the country (Ridgewood). Undeserved luxuries all, but at least I didn’t weigh in on what hot girls eat. Is nothing sacred?
Pete L’Official: “Nobody loves a genius child,” is true in almost every case, except when it came to Greg Tate. We loved Greg because it was clear in every “furthermucking” word he wrote that he loved us, and US, and us. We loved him because it was his own inimitable self-making that, improbably, made a community—that is, made all of us want to make as he made, to love art and music and “Blacknuss” as he loved them, in words and deeds. We loved him because he likely knew he was our inspiration, but was too damn cool to let on that he did. I’m never going to forget watching Greg walk into the exhibition that he co-curated and, in a room full of Basquiats, stop in front of Jean-Michel’s Hollywood Africans—in some ways, the ur-text for a show centered upon the collaged histories and gothic futurities of graffiti and hip-hop. I caught the moment imperfectly, but I almost prefer how the masked figure of Greg seems to meld with the begoggled Rammellzee and the be-baseball-capped Toxic in portrait behind him, while one flyboy genius child floats off to the side, coolly clocking the other. (Photo: Pete L’Official.)
Mina Tavakoli: Falling has been the thing of the year—prey, ill, out, short, upward. It’s been strangely relaxing to feel gravity’s yank. Here, this happened last week: My bartender (Greek, acerbic) was speaking to a patron with a mustache. Mustache asked if the potato cheese soup was worth getting. (“No.”) Mustache pressed on and started talking about his father’s recent death. Two minutes passed. The Greek sighed. “Everyone dies,” he went, walked away, and accidentally knocked the man's stein to the floor.
Emily Gould: In October 2021 I celebrated my 40th birthday on a rooftop in Brooklyn. Afterwards I thought about my 20th birthday party, which took place on an East Village rooftop in October 2001, six months after I moved to NYC. For the 20th birthday party my roommates and I made “punch” that was just vodka with kool-aid mix stirred in, with predictably bad results. Two of the friends who attended the 20th birthday party also attended the 40th, which the purple-puking 2001 kids would not necessarily have foreseen. Other than that the parties had little in common except that there is something special about being on a roof, seeing the city from that perspective and feeling in an unavoidable way that this is the backdrop of your life.
Allegra Kirkland: The U.S. government is useless and chaos reigns. Revel in the good times when they come. Love your people. Keep holding on.
Eileen Myles: Our outgoing deeply unpopular mayor pretty much handed city planning over to a real estate company called HR & A during his eight years in office and of course somebody from that company Jamie Torres Springer ran the DDC until recently so in the final three weeks of 2021 they killed more than 300 mature trees (661 to go) many over eighty years old to make sure that the developers would not lose their opportunity to rob us of public land in order to enact a truly lousy non resilient flood plan. I feel gross. I feel sorrowful, I’m full of rage. It deeply sucks.
Jennifer Krasinski: 2021 was like an arctic breeze on an open wound—excruciating, healing. I spent time trying to sort out how to make right use of the bright, bubbling venom left in me from the previous four years. I often felt so heavy and unlike myself. When I'm stumped by something I'm writing, or just more generally stumped, I'll scribble down a question or a thought or half sentence or something in my notebook so I can sleep on it. (Nerdy, yes, but it works.) A few nights ago, I wrote, rather desperately, WHAT COMES NEXT? and woke up with the words Five Reveries and a Fist: A Kung Fu Poem fresh in mind. A message? A joke? A new project? Only 2022 will tell.
Dean Kissick: My Dad says 2021 was “restricted, claustrophobic, limited, very much at home, sedentary.” I say it was the longest year of my life. Things that happened less than twelve months before feel like years ago. Which is fine. Life has felt calm, soporific, looping. Every day was more or less the same until now, at the year’s end, we’ve been returned to a pale imitation of spring 2020. A friend tells me everything slows down like this during moments of transition. I enjoyed Ruger’s bouncy Christian afrobeat bop “Dior”, Oklou’s lush “Unearth Me”, and Max Tundra’s remix of A. G. Cook’s “Soft Landing”, a song with four distinct passages, each more uplifting than the last.
Michael Robbins: I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling ‘22.
Abigail Susik: Watching Peter Ustinov’s 1962 film Billy Budd on VHS in my basement: a young Terence Stamp burning through the celluloid like a pool of gold, Melville and the magnetism of inherent ugliness, my nerves on edge (to my surprise...), totally rapt, sensing the endless desire for beauty and the potential for community and collaboration, the day to day pleasures of living and the possible simplicity of work— combined in the same dose with all the insectoid tendencies of humans, the drive to endlessly colonize, exhaust resources, and infest and inhabit all hosts and rivals; the automatism of our sadism and the human addiction to control and submission: hope and fear in equal measure.
Ashley Clark: In 2021 I was made aware by my pal Spotify of the alarming fact that I reside in the top 0.001% of the world's Peter Gabriel listeners, which leads me to wonder: if Peter Gabriel is the answer, what was the question?
Sydney Spann: A wasp in a jar amplified by an ultrasound microphone, my grandad’s hearing aids feeding back and whistling, Grier and I singing Squidward’s theme together. 2021 has been very non linear—the end of 2020 was indistinguishable for me and so might be the beginning of this next year. I wish you all a very unionize childcare and abolish the nuclear family.
Jasper Bernes: I’m not sure 2021 is real. It just seems like twelve bonus months of 2020.
Brandon Shimoda: On Sunday, November 14, I got an email from the poet Aditi Machado that began, “I’m not sure ‘condolences’ are the right sentiment to pass on in the case of Etel Adnan, but…” My laptop was on top of a tall dresser. I read the email on my tiptoes. 2021 is the year Etel Adnan died. She was born in 1926, the same year as my grandmother, who is still alive, and who has spent the last two years alone in assisted-living on the outskirts of DC. I was going to visit in March 2020. I had a plane ticket. As the story goes and keeps going. This year? My grandmother has been letting her hair grow. She’s been playing bingo. The elders sit in their doorways while the nurse calls out numbers. They play volleyball with a balloon (volleyballoon). My grandmother remembers less and less, is open and seems fine about it. She remembers moving to NYC in 1945 to be with my grandfather, who was fresh out of a DOJ prison (Japanese immigrant, enemy alien, suspected spy, and other white American fantasies), and drinking her first root beer. She's told me about the root beer dozens of times. She can still taste it. I’ve often wondered if that root beer will, in the end, be the only thing left. I asked her what her secret is to living a long, healthy life, and she said, simply: “Eating popcorn.”
Marianela D’Aprile: I had a really hard year and a really great year, which as I age seem to me not mutually exclusive, but actually really likely bedfellows. I don’t think it (life) will get easier; I think I will just keep getting better at it.
Namara Smith: This was a nice year. I ran around outside and smoked too many cigarettes. I'll be sorry when it's over.
Danielle Tcholakian: 2021 was the first full calendar year sober of my adult life and somehow, despite having to be acutely conscious of every waking second of it, I think very possibly the best? I’ve never felt luckier or more loved, and even when it has been horribly hard and scary, it’s always been better than it was before. I have so much to be grateful for and I am.
Jason Stewart: I probably had the best year of my life in 2021. I got engaged, went on a national tour, released an album. For 2022, I’ll work on trying not to feel like I had no business doing any of those things.
Jo Livingstone: I feel that a year is not a meaningful unit of time except very possibly in retrospect, from a long distance.
Jessica Loudis: 2021 was largely a dumpster fire. There were, however, a number of things that brought me joy. This includes alebrijes, day trips to see brutalist architecture, a very finely made German toy crossbow, Oliver Bulloughs’ newsletter on oligarchy, the work of Yuri Herrera, Magda Szabo, Christian Petzold, Lords of Finance, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, Lux magazine, Audm, many negative fast covid tests, Eurovision, sleeping on a nightliner, moqueca, Bananagrams, and many other things I can’t think of at the moment. I will also take away the important lesson that it is never a good idea to try to train a cat to use a human toilet. May next year be better.
Emmy the Great: I know that, even in isolation, we’re all connected. There’s treasure everywhere!
Conrad Standish of CS + Kreme: 2021 has been an exhausting one. The novelty of you-know-what having worn very much off - ‘oooh what’s a lockdown?!’….
Melbourne ended up being the worlds’ most locked down city. Which I was in favour of, I should point out, but also - fucking hell. Takes a bit of a toll.
Still, it wasn’t all staring at the wall and/or Succession. Finally quit my dead-end day job as a postman after 9 years which felt great. Started a new job working in bushland regeneration which feels even better than great. Sam and I (just last night) - finished our second CS + Kreme LP. Maybe out late ‘22?? Anyway I’m very excited to put that out into the world.
2021 hasn’t been a great teacher or a great reset or very much of anything really. It’s just been about putting the work in and trying not to let the bastards get you down. Let’s see what’s next :)
Eva Hagberg: I did a lot of things that seemed scary and had seemed impossible (like some IVF cycles, taking care of a cattle dog alone for six weeks) but once I did them they just taught me a lot and I kept being surprised by my own capacity and also the capacity of those around me to always help me through confusing / challenging / etc times. I feel like 2021 was when I really felt free for the first time in a long time, which is surprising because in many ways I was very committed to things, but this year, commitment felt freeing. I wrote books I wanted to write and hung out with friends I wanted to hang out with and my friend Marianela moved to New York, which has been truly a legendary life event for me. And of course I cried a lot and agonized about ego-driven things and let a million people down and disappointed myself and others. 2021 has been really special and I feel like it was a year in which I lived the life I’m supposed to be living. A very nice template.
Lucy Teitler: This year, let’s face it, has been a trick set of Russian dolls. You think you’ve hit the center & instead, surprise, it’s another polished smiling evil little face, just smaller. Far too much death for the prime of my life, but I think, in a way, we’re living through war time. And there have been some high points too. I sat in a beautiful old building that belonged to my friend Marc and looked at this book of Ernst Haeckel prints and felt transcendent (can’t remember if stoned). Any year where I got so heartbroken can’t be considered a wasted year. All this chaos must be the beginning of something new. Who wants to play tennis? It’s my resolution to improve. (Pls get in touch if so.)
Miles Okazaki: And that leads us to the idea that the exquisite corpse, being a collection of fragments unknown to each individual contributor, where each segment is like 2021 an interstitial space, with two exceptions neither the beginning or the end, where the plan is continuously deferred and the horizon moves as you approach it, and maybe the best we can do is make something that might help things flow along by being an unobtrusive piece of cartilage, beginning with “and,” and ending with “So:
Kaya Genç: I devoted 2021 to learning French and finishing my new book, Krikor, about an Armenian painter infatuated with Islamic art. I haven’t yet mastered French. Krikor is 75 percent done—perhaps 70 percent. I’ll devote 2022 to mastering French, reading L’Étranger, and finessing Krikor.
Frustrations. Determined to do all of my reading in print, I purchased piles of books. But in economically devastated Turkey, new volumes, especially English-language ones, became harder to get. Nowadays, even the most prominent American publishers refuse to ship review copies to Istanbul. I had to buy a Kindle to read PDFs of books I was commissioned to review. First-world problems, one may object. Still, the more I try to keep away from screens, the more they demand my presence.
Binges. I read the complete works of Elena Ferrante and Rachel Cusk, and I watched the original Twin Peaks. Ecstatic experiences. I’m keen to devote 2022 to Annie Ernaux, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and The Return.
Sadness. Grandfather passed. My cousins and I struggled to close his coffin. A tree fell on the road as our stuffy hearse tried to reach his gravesite. Gravediggers were late to the funeral. As the imam read a prayer, an elderly man watched us from a remove.
Music. I listen to whatever Adam Shatz ponders in his writing. This year it was the music of Julius Hemphill, the “blues surrealist.” I’m closing the year with the live recording of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
Stephanie D’Alessandro: The anticipation of putting up a fresh, new annual calendar has never been stronger.
Kaleb Horton: Year two of the pandemic and time is dead. I’ve mostly done what Jerry Lee Lewis said he was doing: watching the virus go by. This has made me, like a lot of people, nuts. I’m always trying to schedule routines like medicine. The strongest stuff I’ve found is reruns of Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure, the late artist’s DJ show on Sirius XM. I listen to it at the end of every workday. As a DJ, Tom’s stated mission is to play “rock, rhythm and blues”–the kind of music he and his band memorized from Florida jukeboxes in the ‘60s and ‘70s–and he adheres to it dogmatically.
When I close my laptop and move from the work couch to the good couch, Tom Petty’s ghostly drawl ushers in the evening. It’s good-mood music, party music, comforting familiarity punctuated with pleasurable surprises. He throws on guys like Big Joe Turner or J.J. Cale alongside radio standbys like the Monkees. He’s partial to the Stones, though his Beatles selections quietly advocate for their early years as a pub band covering rockabilly. There are surprises, like “Teacher, Teacher” by Rockpile or “Waiting for Tonight” from his own band and the Bangles (meant as the closer for Full Moon Fever but never released).
He claims to broadcast from Rick’s Airport Recorders, implied to be an illegally converted storage unit or downmarket strip mall facility with “the best sound in the L.A. airport area.” He’s always alluding to a made-up intern he’s firing or a research assistant he’s firing. Cumulatively it’s like going to a nice Southern diner with a nice jukebox and some nice weirdos at the end of your shift, and it’s wild how few people know about it.