Best poetry I read in 2016

This is all the poetry I read in 2016 (make a sad face), but all of it was good. In order of delight:

Autobiography of Red

1. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

Black Zodiac

2. Black Zodiac, Charles Wright

The Father

3. The Father, Sharon Olds

4. The Collected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz

Head Off & Split

5. Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney

New Selected Poems

6. New Selected Poems, Philip Levine

Thrall

7. Thrall, Natasha Trethewey

What poetry did you read and enjoy this past year?

Coming soon: Best nonfiction and fiction I read in 2016. Stay tuned.

Christmastime

ChristmasHow pleasant it is to be home with the whole family; how quickly it always passes.

ChristmasThis year, I was particularly grateful to have such an extended amount of time with Grace, whom we now get to see only a few times a year, owing to the fact that she lives in Germany.

Christmas times

Christmas timesChristmas times We got to meet sweet baby Covin, our second cousin.

Christmas timesEden was strangely good and cuddly.

Christmas timesCheers for the new year.

Xmas lovers

In three ways

At work
New work space.

“Nobody was taking any notice of me yet there was a lovely comforting sensation that beneficent things were being done for me somewhere. I think, as human experiences go, that is one of my favourite ones.” — Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond

Lies I tell at parties

“I’m not much of a hypochondriac.”

“We don’t really watch that much TV.”

“Isn’t that cake delicious? It’s so good, wow.”

How a conversation can collapse (a humorous exhibit)

Man 1: My son married his sister [pointing to other man off stage]. Isn’t that funny? We’ve become like a clan. You [looking at me] should probably get in on this and marry one of them too.

Me: Oh, it’s too late for me.

Man 2: Don’t say that. I had a friend once who got married at 60…

Woman 1: I don’t think that’s what she means. I think she means she’s already married.

Me: Yes. I am married.

Man 2: Oh, I’m sorry. I…

Man 1: Let’s continue our tour.

Beauty routine

The last time I was in Sephora, I was offered a job by the manager because he overheard me recommending products to my mom. “You really know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I know,” I replied, without a touch of embarrassment or bashful hedging. “I know. I really do.”

I don’t like to look like I am wearing a ton of makeup, but I love to study it, read blogs about it, and spend an unadvisedly large monthly sum trying products. I am unapologetic about how much I enjoy makeup and skincare. Someday I’ll delve into the theoretical roots of why putting things on my face and on others’ faces interests me so much, but for now, here is what I am currently doing to my body.

Cosmetics postMorning

I don’t wash my face in the morning; it dries my skin out. I also think there’s something to be said for letting your skin do its own thing (and preserve the actually useful balance of oils) in the morning.

Cosmetics postI put on Aveeno Positively Radiant 15 SPF moisturizer, and then this miracle product: Diorskin Nude Air serum. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted: coverage that lets your skin show through but actually gives you a beautifully even complexion at the same time, SPF, and the faintest hint of perfume. PTL.

I touch up my extremely veiny eyelids with Benefit’s Fake-Up concealer, which is marvelous because it has a Vitamin E component, so it doesn’t dry your tissue-fine eye skin out. Gotta fret about that tissue-fine eye skin. If I need extra help, I use the Sonia Kashuk concealer palette and apply with a tiny concealer brush from E.L.F. It lasts all day and can disguise the most hideous blemish.

In the summer, I then dust all of this with a very light application of MAC Studio Fix powder, which easily lasts me a year and a half, if not more. I tend to forgo it in the winter because my skin is dry enough to not need it. Then, a cheekbone-directed swipe of The Balm’s Hot Mama blush, which is like a less glittery version of NARS Orgasm.

Cosmetics postNext, eyes. Depending on the day or mood, I’ll use a MAC eyeshadow in some neutral shade, or possibly a Laura Mercier gold eyeshadow stick. My current favorite eyeliners are both from Bobbi Brown: the long-wear gel eyeliner in a pot or the very easy gel eyeliner pen.

The best mascara ever is Maybelline’s Colossal Volum’ Express mascara. I am not responsible for its stupid name, but it’s the best. And it’s $5 or $6 at a drugstore. If I’m feeling luxe, I will use an eyelash curler.

I comb my brows and most days apply Benefit’s Gimme Brow. I’ve used several brow products, and this is the best by far: it doesn’t become tacky, it looks extremely natural, and the tiny mascara-brush-like wand doesn’t rip out any hairs like a pencil does. Worth every penny.

Lips come next. I prep with Yes to Coconut lip balm, which is about 500x better than Burt’s Bees; you should all switch right now. It actually hydrates your lips. Lip color changes all the time depending on mood, season, and clothing, but some current favorites are NARS satin lip pencil in Rikugien, Clinique Chubby Stick in Bountiful Blush, and L’Oréal Fairest Nude.

Cosmetics postFinally, perfume, if the mood strikes. My current favorite is Tocca’s Stella, which my mother-in-law introduced me to several Christmases ago. It is intriguingly spicy without being too heavy or floral. It’s perfect.

Writing all of this out makes it look like this excessive process, but it takes me about 10-15 minutes to get ready in the morning. When you’re got a routine, you execute it like a cosmetics Olympian. No hesitation. Just drive and focus. This is the morning you have trained for.

Shower/Hair

I use Sachajuan scalp shampoo, which is the first thing that has given me the freedom to wear black clothes. It is a godsend.

I follow with Davines OI conditioner, which is the most luxe conditioner perhaps ever made. You will smell like a goddess all day after using it, and it is extremely rich and moisturizing for your poor dry strands. Once that runs out, however, which will be soon, I will resume using the Organix coconut milk conditioner. Once a week or every other week in the winter, I’ll also do a SheaMoisture manuka honey intensive hair mask, which makes my hair very happy.

Shower time is also exfoliation time. Currently, I’m alternating between Boots Botanics microdermabrasion polish and Clinique’s 7-day face scrub cream. I have also used and liked Acure’s brightening facial scrub with seaweed.

When I get out, I put in Trésemme curl mousse. It’s typically $5 at the drugstore, and it’s better than every other expensive curly-hair product I’ve tried over the past 10 years (and I have tried dozens).

On second-day dry hair, I use Davines This Is a Sea Salt Spray, which is fabulous. And smells like a summery day.

Evening

I take off eye makeup with Neutrogena’s oil-free eye makeup remover, which I have been using since high school, on a cotton round.

Then, I wash my face with this amazing cleansing balm by Boots Organics that we discovered in London, but it’s not yet sold in the U.S. I’m glad we stocked up while we were there, but I think I will switch to Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser once I run out. (Wei let me try it when she was visiting, and it is divine.)

Cosmetics postI have a rotating shelf of serums and night creams, mostly samples that I’m working through right now. But the Boots Botanics facial oil* is usually in the rotation in the winter, along with something from Caudalie. I’m interested in trying some heavier night creams for the winter, because the winter is dark and terrible and hateful toward my skin. (*This seems to be a product they have stopped making, which is devastating news. It was so inexpensive and so great.)

Mario Badescu drying lotion is my second life-saving product, after Diorskin. This is the #1 greatest solution for pimples. I could not live without it. Or, I could, but my life would be a formless void.

Jewelry

Cosmetics postTara Montgomery is my primary source for jewelry; almost everything I own and wear was made by her, and it’s all perfect. I consider her my personal jeweler. I get a compliment almost without fail whenever I’m wearing Tara’s jewelry. You can’t go wrong.

*I was not asked by any of these brands to say these nice things about their products. But maybe they SHOULD have asked me to; I’m a great saleswoman.

How to read a book

133/365If you own the book, bracket thought-provoking or beautiful passages with your favorite Japanese pen. Write the page number of the passage on the last blank page of the book, in a column, for future reference. You will then be able to pluck the book from your shelves during a dinner party and annoy/bore your guests with the passage when you judiciously drop it into conversation.

If you are borrowing the book, flag thought-provoking or beautiful passages with those plasticky flags you hoarded and then stole from your old job. Record the quotes in your Google doc before you have to return it to the library or to your friend, and remove all the flags.

Remove the dust jacket of all hardback books and neatly, gently slide it into your nightstand, lest you forget it. Forget about this dust jacket when you re-shelve the book.

If you are sitting down for a heavy reading session of multiple books, read 20 pages at a time from each book. Arrange the books in a stack next to you by alternating genres (fiction, nonfiction, fiction, nonfiction), lest your stamina begins to flag. This alternating pattern will hold your interest for some time, until a fatal interruption arrives.

If other humans are not home, read aloud from fussy passages. Sometimes, if you are feeling very bold, you will read with accents, preferably a stilted approximation of high-class British (think: Woolf’s watery, unbearably snooty dialect) or a very poor French accent.

Use bookmarks that are composed of a sturdy cardstock. Receipts and other thin tissue-like papers simply will not do. Bookmarks are often cast-offs from calligraphy projects gone wrong, and sometimes they contain obscene statements you have written on them in the throes of a bad job. Never use the bookmark to take notes, because it will be used with other books in its short lifetime, and these notes will be a distraction to you.

Always peep at the author photo and make a judgment about the author’s personality based on looking at this photo for four or five seconds. Judge especially harshly modern authors who elect to have their photos in black and white and who are making a particularly hard, erudite scowl at the camera.

Write down words you don’t know in your Moleskine notebook. Look them up later. If you look them up now on your phone, you will never go back to your book; you will get sucked into an Instagram sinkhole and never emerge.

Always read with a pen nearby. If you do not have one nearby, you will invariably need one, according to the laws of nature, and have to get up and go stomping around the house to find one, which will disrupt your flow in such a way that you may never sit down again for the rest of the day.

It is best to read by a window during the day and to not use a lamp. Read until the light goes dim in the sky. Then, you may sit in the faded blue chair under the lamp and cross your legs on the faded blue ottoman covered with faux fur and wait for Eden to bring you a slimy ball. She will endeavor to drop it right in your lap and smear the pages with drool. She will not rest until you engage her. She hates it when you read.

Never read the foreword. The only instance in which it is appropriate to read a foreword is if it is written by a famous author you already love and trust, like Eudora Welty or Guy Davenport or Annie Proulx. Otherwise, you will find the foreword irritating and if it is bad, it will color your opinions for the rest of your time with the book.

You will only be able to read for about 10 minutes on your side before falling asleep in your bed. If you must read in bed, you must prop pillows up on the headboard and read sitting up, with the book on your knees. In this posture, you may read for hours on end. You will always want to read at least five pages of some book after having sex. If you do not have a book nearby after sex, you will have to go find one, and this will ruin the pleasant mood.

Avoid reading books with ugly design. Never ever read a mass-market paperback, not even if it’s the only book on a six-hour flight. Never ever read a book with a cover that shows the actors in the film adaptation. Never ever read a book that has tiny margins or Times New Roman as the primary typeface.

Stop writing things in books. You will be embarrassed by the old books you have that are filled with your high-school-era marginalia, because your husband will confront you with them when he finally gets around to reading that classic novel, and he will poke fun at you, in a loving way, but you are still embarrassed because you thought you were rather clever at the time and now you realize that you were just a moony teen with too much time on her hands and this will shatter your sense of self in a way that feels uncomfortable right after dinner.

Mornings and aliens

November home life
The fiddle-leaf fig is feeling cornered.

We have breakfast together now, perhaps for the first time in our marriage. Our previous day jobs were structured so that our mornings rarely overlapped. A shared breakfast is pleasant, even if it is short.

He tells me some music news that completely sails over my head; I make lists on scraps of paper; one of us will feed the overeager dogs.

We sit down at the table, facing each other. We each have a cup of Yorkshire Gold (Sgt. Brody’s favorite) and talk about what we’ve read or are thinking about. We are interrupted by getting up and down to let Eden out into the yard. Lately, we tend to share dark and gloomy political predictions. We wax poetic about all the ways America will go wrong in the next four years.

This morning, he regaled me with ideas from an article about intelligent life and made me feel anxious about (a) finding it in a far-off galaxy and then (b) being obliterated by it because it will not value human consciousness.

“They will not recognize the value of preserving consciousness,” he said, “because they will have no need for it.”

“So, they’ll see us like chickens?”

“Yes. And feel the same way we do about eating chickens. No moral hesitation.”

He stood up to leave, already a minute past the time he was supposed to be at work.

“Wait, I have a thing!” I said. “Listen to my thing.”

And I told him about a law in Nebraska that let parents abandon children without legal repercussions, but the law forgot to stipulate an age limit, and so within days, dozens of parents were dropping off kids from the ages of 3 to 17. It was the lead of an article that Catherine sent me yesterday.

“You would read a thing like that,” he said. And kissed my cheek. And we left for work.

(But really, where did Sgt. Brody learn to love Yorkshire Gold? It is not easily found in our shared state of Virginia; I have to buy it online. And as far as we know, he never lived in England. I call foul on this choice by the screenwriters.)

On a quiet holiday season

Thanksgiving in the Pines

I still can’t read the news, because it makes me queasy, so it was nice to remove myself from a screen for a long weekend. We retreated for the Thanksgiving holiday to spend the time with Guion’s family, and it was very nice.

Thanksgiving in the Pines

One supreme benefit is Georgia. This is Georgia. She belongs to Guion’s parents, and she is probably the best dog who has ever lived. She really likes holding hands.

We enjoyed long conversations and memory-sharing at the dinner table; ate sumptuously; and took extensive warm-weather walks.

Thanksgiving in the Pines

(Guion also continues to be very good-looking.)

We are at peace, despite our increasingly doomed country. I let him get his first Christmas tree* of our marriage this year, and he is very happy about it. The morning after we put it up and decorated it, I found him sitting in the dark living room next to it, lights on, drinking his tea. I felt a surge of guilt for being such a Scrooge, for having crushed his childlike spirit for so many years. But we have it now. And Christmas joy permeates the house.

(*”Tree” is a grandiose term; the thing is barely 3 feet tall. My wifely generosity has limits.)

Thanksgiving in the Pines

Shakshuka by the fire

Fatniss Turkeydeen 2016Family is always a solace!

In times of general nationwide gloom, there will always be Fatniss Turkeydeen. (We were delighted to host Kelsey and Alex this past weekend for our Third Annual Fatniss, to celebrate Kelsey’s birthday, cram our gullets with good food, and watch an apocalyptic film.)

It is good to spend time together, as much as we can spare, even if it is loose and unstructured and mostly just punctuated by food and drink. Talking about people we once knew well. Sitting by the fire and having overly spicy shakshuka for breakfast. Walking the dogs on narrow sidewalks and musing about domestic architecture. (I’m thinking about this great little essay from the New York Times about the myth of quality time: There is no “quality” time. You just need time. Don’t put that kind of emotional pressure on time; we resist it.)

And now, for more feasting and more family time, we head into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Having met my reading goal for the year, I am going to take December slowly and start my second read of War and Peace (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky). I am going to force myself to savor it. And allow myself the time to take as long as it takes. Read the dialogue in French before looking at the translation in the footnote. Re-read a whole page if I didn’t catch the gist the first time. Don’t worry about the fact that I still have 1,100 pages to go.

I want to read fewer books next year. I am so competitive with myself that I find it hard to slow down and dive into the long, complex things. I just want to tear through as many books of essays and short novels as I can. But this is a bad orientation to literature. I am trying to fix it.

Here is a photo of Pyrrha, taking herself seriously:

November home life

I don’t know where to begin

Nature therapy day

How deeply I looked forward to celebrating our first woman present; how sincerely I dreaded the other outcome, the one we now have.

I will only say a few things, because my filtered version of the internet is daily bursting at the seams with astonished essays, angry stances, assignments of blame, and other iterations of deserved and palpable grief. I am right there with it all. But I have had to turn away from it, if only to preserve my sanity. That is what we did on Sunday; we left our screens and went to the woods with the dogs.

Nature therapy day

Some thoughts on surviving the next four years.

  • Celebrate the tiny things. I went to the library book sale this weekend, and this thought actually ran through my head: “At least I can still read. At least we can find solace in books still.” It sounds silly to say out loud, much less to write, but it was sincerely comforting to me at that moment.
  • Champion the women and people of color in your life. We need each other now more than ever.
  • Spend time with mute creatures. Like babies and dogs. They have no idea what is going on and in this way can be infinitely calming.
  • Make art. In whatever form most calls to you, create something with your mind or your hands. Artists tend to make their best work under the shadow of frightening regimes.
  • Support nonprofits who are doing the hard work every day. I’m giving to New City Arts Initiative, the ACLU, Oceana, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP. There are hundreds and hundreds of amazing organizations all over this troubled country who need us. Find one that speaks to you.
  • Kiss your loved ones.
  • Turn it off when it gets too much. Go outside. Read a novel or a random Emily Dickinson poem. Write your grandfather a letter.

(Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing)

The good:

My beloved sister and brother-in-law are coming this weekend for our annual feast. I love my new job, my new teammates, the things I get to think about at work. Our dogs are stupid but were so happy and carefree on our hike. This beautiful golden basin of a city that we live in. Sumi ink. Liturgy. Guion.

(My soul also is greatly troubled)

A piece of a wasted hour

October with Wei
Virginia is perfect this time of year. (A vineyard nearby.)

“Still, a great deal of light falls on everything.” — Vincent van Gogh, in a letter

Annals of Everyday Sexism, No. 1,204

I told him some about my new job and what I would be doing and how I was so excited about it, about the work itself and about all of the new challenges and opportunities it would bring.

“It sounds like Guion and I would be better at that job than you would be,” he said as soon as I finished.

I blinked. “No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” I said, and then with uncharacteristic firmness, “I am going to be great at this job.” My blood was feeling hot in my face.

He furrowed his brows, implying he didn’t believe me. But for once, I had a retort ready.

“Just because I’m not constantly talking about myself and how great I am all the time doesn’t mean I don’t have any skills,” I said, turning away.

“Oh, you’re adorable,” he said, in the purest of patronizing tones. And all this despite the fact that he is several years younger than me.

(You are not surprised when it happens, this kind of thing, because it has been happening all your life, but you are now almost 30 and ready to say something about it when it does. To name a thing, to call it what it is, to not hedge anymore.)

That said, I just finished the first week at my new job, and I am feeling all of the good feels: happy, grateful, fortunate, enlightened, challenged, hopeful, thrilled, capable, eager.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened, and its deepest mystery probed?” — Annie Dillard

I just finished The Abundance, which I thought was a new collection of Annie Dillard essays because I didn’t read the subtitle carefully. It isn’t; it’s almost entirely old stuff, repackaged. But her old stuff is still beautiful and challenging and mind-expanding, and I was happy to re-read it. If I ever were to aspire to nonfiction in this way, Dillard is all that I could ever hope to be. Her boundless curiosity, her lyricism, her patience, her directness. It will always be difficult to convince me than any other American essayist can surpass her.

Up next on the reading docket: A big haul from the library book sale (somewhat thick, heady European novels that have been on my list for a long time + James Baldwin + John McPhee + Simone de Beauvoir’s short stories) and the Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector (I’m scared).