Last year, I pulled together my favorite essays that I wrote in 2015. This year I thought I would do the same.
While some writers like to direct readers to their most popular essays of the year, I like to remind you of the essays that proved to be my favorites. Some of the essays listed are essays that I still can’t believe that I wrote. I read them and wonder how those sentences landed in that particular paragraph in that particular essay. They make me proud because they show how far I’ve come as a writer. Other essays are the ones that I’m proud to have written because they felt impossible to write. They required me to step outside of my comfort zone, required new skills, or were hard to write because of the vulnerability and emotion that they required.
What’s striking to me is how much things have changed for me in 2016, this dumpster fire of a year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 proved to be both worst and better. Last year, I had applied to an MFA program. Hannah, our 15-year-old dog, died in March. She missed 16 by a little more than a month. She witnessed my life, so I witnessed the end of hers. Some day, I’ll write about what she meant to me, to us, but not yet, I can’t.
By mid-year, I received a rejection. Over the summer, I curated a series of essays on albums and our feelings, which was pretty damn amazing. By fall, I became editor of Women in Higher Education. In November, Tr*mp became president, and suddenly, my work on white supremacists seemed relevant. After Thanksgiving, I even had an op-ed published in The New York Times, which led to white supremacist trolls calling me a race traitor (and much worse) on Twitter and in email.
My kids grew a year older, which simultaneously gives me breathing room in one moment and takes it away in another. They need me less each day, which is both lovely and heartbreaking, but their needs are ever-shifting and require new responses. My endings book is now up to 78 pages. I might finish it if I can bear to think about apocalypses right now. In two days, I’ll have been married to Chris for 15 years, which feels like a gift or a miracle or both each time I stop to think about it. Life moved on in ways that I couldn’t quite expect at the beginning of 2016. I’m warily looking at 2017 to see what the new year will bring. All of which to say, 2016 has been both terrible and beautiful. The terror can’t stamp out the good even though it desperately tries.
So, here are my beloved essays from 2016. Give them a read, or re-read. I hope that you enjoy them. And please read them knowing that I continue to look for hope, to write about it, even in the ruins.
On Redeeming Other People, Killing the Buddha (June 8, 2016):
When we were children, my cousin, brother, and I would pick the berries. Small hands darted into brambles to pick the juicy, sun-ripened fruit. My hands ended up scratched and bleeding from our efforts, but I continued to pick more. Wounds that led to a reward seemed somehow sweeter. The agony was worth it. But, I gave up on romanticizing suffering years ago. Sometimes, blood shed is just blood; there’s no reward waiting at the end of a struggle.
The Men Who Email Me, Vitae (May 3, 2016):
The men who email me take up space in my inbox. They take up space in my head. They take up my time. What amazes me is that these men think that I owe them time, attention, and effort because they read something I wrote. I don’t owe them anything, but I seem to be the only one who knows that. These men continue to believe that I deserve their opinions. I want them to learn to keep their opinions to themselves.
Kin Keeping and Emotional Labor, Women in Higher Education (March 2016):
Unsurprisingly, carework and kin keeping both fall disproportionately on women, and women are expected to manage home and family alongside work and our own interests. When we don’t keep kin, we can face criticism and scrutiny. I’ve been scolded for tardy thank-you notes and forgetting important dates or birthdays. Meanwhile, I keep track of all these tasks by myself and can identify who gave my toddler which gift from his birthday months ago.
Fairy Tales, Cold Takes (January 21, 2016):
Moreover, fantasy offered up endless happy endings. Real life, on the other hand, had few happy endings. And when the endings were happy, the happiness was conditional and fleeting. Happiness never tried to linger. She often wondered why.
In Defense of Hope, Marginalia Review of Books (August 16,2016):
Like so many others, I understand the temptation of despair. I understand the desire to claim that the future is out of our hands. I understand the ease of malaise and the hardness of activism. And this is why I keep returning to Hope in the Dark. In this shitty year, perhaps the shittiest year, I need hope about the future, and Solnit makes the case for hope.
Listen to the Sound of My Voice, Sounding Out (August 15, 2016):
My voice betrayed me because it refused to sound like I thought I needed it to. It refused to sound like anyone but me.
Silence Won’t Protect You, Marginalia Review of Books (March 1, 2016):
To be heard, then, grants dignity, humanity, and recognition. When discussions of academic freedom pop up, I cannot help but wonder who we are supposed to listen to. Do academics have a certain expectation to be heard because of our expert status, training, or scholarship? Or are only certain academics granted the ability to be audible and protected? Why do we protect the words of the few rather than the many?
Staking Monsters, Sacred Matters (October 28, 2016):
The most recent series of police shootings make me think of monsters, not just the zombies I usually write about, but the presence of monsters that lurks and dwells in our everyday speech and interactions. The rhetorics of horror are commonplace. They appear pervasive and inescapable because horror is filmed, televised, and tweeted day in and day out. Another day, another police shooting, another staggering loss, another glimpse at racism’s staying power and its continued horror.
Nice, decent folks, Cold Takes (November 17, 2016):
In my north Florida hometown, white people (no matter their class orientation) perfected nice racism. Now, there were some white folks, who were belligerent and unapologetic racists. But most white folks hid their racism behind civility until provoked. (They also didn’t acknowledge that white supremacy was a structure that organized our lives, but rather imagined that racism just appeared in particular racist words and actions.) These white people seemed very nice and decent until they felt they had to respond to (or were provoked) by the existence of people of color. Racism existing under smiles and small talk.
Sharing Spiritual Stories, Even When Your Voice Shakes, Bearings, (September 16, 2016):
That’s were my imagined spiritual confession falters. How do I even begin to tell my children what my spiritual story is when I don’t quite understand its shape yet myself? How do I tell them my story in a way that makes clear that it’s also our story, which we are creating together as a family? What stories are they piecing together from my words and my silences at these moments? What story am I shaping from their spiritual and religious questions? How do I not tell them this story—our story—as it progresses?
And one from 2015, which I still love, On Pandering, Vitae (December 9, 2015):
Watkins writes, “I have built a working miniature replica of the [white] patriarchy in my mind.” Academics have, too. Pandering might be a way to navigate academia, but the practice doesn’t guarantee success, acclaim, or a even space to claim as one’s own. To pander to white men reassures them that they are the arbiters of what’s important and what’s not. When we pander, we acquiesce to their vision of the world, yet our acceptance in this world is fleeting and conditional.
What were your favorite essays on mine from 2016? Tweet at me to let me know.