A short update: I’m midway through my fifth year of teaching high school English. I have wonderful colleagues, and I’ve acquired a lot of experience — good and bad! I play piano in a trio and I’ve begun to book gigs in my local arts community. I spent most of my summer playing for two shows at a local theater — a lot of musical theater — so music is back to its sidelined but central place in my life. Other than that, I visit various family members from time to time, and watch a lot of movies and TV, and read a lot of books. About that:
Like many other people, 2019 was the year I fell in love with Schitt’s Creek, a show that more informed members of society loved long before I finally gave it a shot. Their continual tweeting about the show led me to try it out, during the polar vortex in January that accounted for the first four of eleven snow days we had in the spring. By the time we’d hit the eleventh snow day, I’d earnestly evangelized and converted two of my coworkers into the fold; I’d seen all four seasons on Netflix and was just finishing the currently airing fifth season via an Amazon season pass. Since then, I’ve continually tweeted about the show, and used gifs of the show to tweet about everything else. I’ve already completed a full rewatch — something I never do for TV shows — and there’s a stretch of episodes that I’ve seen more than twice. I’ve watched every compilation I can find of Alexis saying “David” and Moira saying “Bebe.” I’ve done deep dives into Etsy — ETSY — for merchandise that I have now embedded into my life (my new tote bag! ornaments! a key chain! a refrigerator magnet!)
In short, I’m obsessed. Schitt’s Creek is not the funniest show I’ve ever seen, but I can’t stop smiling when I watch it. I want to listen to every word that falls out of Moira Rose’s mouth. I want to watch David and Alexis become better human beings. I want to pat Ted on the head. I want to chill with Ronnie. I want to glimpse that amused, delighted look Patrick gets whenever David does something typically Davidish. I want to reassure Johnny. I want to sing in the Jazzagals. I want to exchange snarky, knowing glances with Stevie. (I am happy to continue watching Roland Schitt from afar.)* I’m not sad the show is ending — six seasons is one more season than any show should have (and S5 is just a bit weaker than the other seasons) — but I am a tiny bit sad about the process of saying goodbye to what quickly became one of my Formative Texts™.
*Not to mention Twyla’s zaniness and Jocelyn’s canny oblivion.
I didn’t read anything as incredible as Howards End this year, but I read some pretty good books. These were some of the most significant:
Educated — I had way too much in common with this book.
“Never again would I allow myself to be made a foot soldier in a conflict I did not understand.”
If Beale Street Could Talk — A rare (for me) squirm-inducing read. Also, simply breathtaking (and, at times, grotesque) writing about bodies.
“I guess it can’t be too often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there.”
Women Talking — A book that never felt real historically, but one that often felt real experientially. It’s the first book I’ve read that gets at the peculiar timelessness of living within a cult; the author and narrator both know what it is like to float along with barely a tie to contemporary history.
“How would you feel if in your entire lifetime it had never mattered what you thought?” — A perfect description of the essence of growing up in patriarchy.
Maurice — Maurice nearly ended up on my completely arbitrary favorites list (Formative Texts™), but I didn’t find the secondary relationship as compelling as the first. Still, I spent most of my reading experience marveling over these incredible chapter endings Forster wrote. The best ones are where he writes one sentence that instantly reorients everything that has come before. But even when his chapter endings aren’t paradigm shifty, they’re a punchy kicker, or an O’Henry-esque clincher, or a cliffhanger. Definitely my best read of the year.
I ate fried chicken and red beans and rice in New Orleans and I certainly don’t know how to explain how imperative it is that everyone also have fried chicken and red beans and rice in New Orleans at some point in their life.
I acquired a Letterboxd account in December of 2018, so I’ve been tracking my movie watching for an entire year now. I like this! I also want TV capability (I could never begin to use an app like this for books). I watched (and rewatched) more than 150 movies this year, so based on my records, here’s a short list of the (alphabetically arranged) movies I watched this year that really caught my attention.
Released this year:
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (one of two films I saw this year that actually ended perfectly)
- The Irishman (it’s absurd how good this actually is)
- Knives Out (the other perfect ending)
- Little Women (the idea that Greta Gerwig would not automatically be the frontrunner for Best Adapted Screenplay in every awards circle is insane)
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (the most problematic of the year, and yet still on this list)
- Parasite (certainly the most enjoyable theater experience of the year; an incredibly captivating movie)
- Us (Lupita for Oscar)
- Honorable Mentions: Ad Astra, Always Be My Maybe (for the I Punched Keanu Reeves song), The Farewell, Hustlers (for JLo), Late Night (for the incredible performance of Emma Thompson, and also her costumes), Leaving Neverland, and Marriage Story
Not released this year, but I watched for the first time in 2019, again alphabetically:
- Brokeback Mountain (everybody was right about this movie, and about Heath Ledger’s performance)
- Burning (I like to imagine the spirit of Patricia Highsmith fondly looking down upon this movie)
- Can You Ever Forgive Me? (sneaked onto this list after my first-time watch last night)
- Dodsworth (A 1936 movie that is far franker and wiser about adulthood than it has any business being)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (a nearly perfect movie, but I disliked the added ending)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (Sisyphean torture, but also there’s Please Mr. Kennedy)
- Lawrence of Arabia (which I’d seen a dozen times before, but never in a theater, which does make a difference)
- Margaret (J. Smith Cameron, legend) (Anna Paquin, too, actually)
- Philadelphia (A thoughtful adult drama that ages better than I thought it might)
- Yi Yi (The little boy!!!)
- Y Tu Mamá También (What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? / What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?)
The Year of Sisters
In my Letterboxd review of Little Women I wrote, “the women that you share your early years with will not only be the best friends you could ever have, they will also be the people most capable of doing you harm.” There’s much to praise in both Little Women and the second season of Fleabag, and there’s a multitude of reasons why they’re respectively my favorite film and TV season of the year, but one key reason is that both texts center the relationships of sisters with careful and critical sincerity. In Little Women, Greta Gerwig gives one of the greatest gifts to Amy and Jo’s sister relationship by making sure her audience sees Amy as more than the foil for Jo — she’s her own person. We understand perfectly the kind of childish hurt that would lead to her vicious destruction of Jo’s book; we just as perfectly understand why Jo would react the way she does. Later on, we recognize how Jo always has a harder time finding good things to say about Amy, and how Amy always feels inferior to her brighter sister.
I have three sisters. I know what this is like. There is nothing but truth here, just the way that, in Fleabag, Fleabag and Claire’s conversations can swing between thoughtful and petty within a sentence or two, or the way that Fleabag would do anything to get rid of Claire’s horrible husband, or the way that they meet outside their dad’s home before facing Godmother together. They praise each other for their accomplishments; they decide to hide things from each other and almost immediately spill the beans anyway. Claire pressures Fleabag to care about what others think (too much, often), while Fleabag, knowing this, drags Claire into her chaos, often without respect for Claire’s desires or needs. All these competing motivations are woven together, suffocatingly and exhilaratingly, with love. When Claire, sporting the most gleefully bad haircut in cinematic history, turns to Fleabag and tells her, “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you,” I cried.
Me too, Claire, me too.
A happy 2020 to everyone, and may all supporters of the pagan despotic lecher acquire righteousness.