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December 2017

2017 in summary

December 31, 2017
The world's cutest toddler, running along a beach

My focus word for 2017 was “abundance,” and I spent all year trying my darnedest to cultivate that.

And failing. I failed so hard, you guys. My failures were abundant.

Financially, it was one of my driest years since I started freelancing. There were long and seemingly endless spans of time where nothing was accepted or published, even though I wrote, pitched, queried, and followed up obsessively. At one point I read an article that advised writers to aim for 100 rejections per year, and I cackled like a mad woman in a Brontë novel — I was hitting about 100 rejections (or non-responses) per month.

It was depressing. It felt like I was trying to climb a mountain, and even though I was doing my part, I couldn’t quite get there. I researched the trail, I showed up in hiking boots, I carried all the right gear, I had the motivation and desire to put in the work. Then mere steps from the top, I toppled for whatever reason, forcing me to start all over again.

Just when I considered calling it quits, I attended the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop in magical Granada, Spain. It helped recharge my batteries on just about every level, from inspiring me to write new things and look at my work in a different way to satisfying my itchy feet and proving I can still travel solo.

A peek out of a golden window at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Soon after, I placed some of my favorite pieces, like this essay for LitHub about Silent Book Club, a piece about wildflowers and making my own roots in the desert for Palm Springs Life (the online version is a little wonky with some repeated paragraphs, but you can see it here anyway), and a funny/sad essay about a rat for Mutha Magazine.

I also started hosting a radio show about books with Tod Goldberg. I received an acceptance from an outlet that has been on my byline bucket list for decades. I registered for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, because I want to find my way toward humor writing again. I read 51 books.

Other good things happened: A road trip to Vegas, a quick jaunt to Portland, a terrific visit with my sister. I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. As a family, Jason, Everest, and I slept in a tipi under the stars in Pioneertown, hiked through a couple of Canada’s spectacular national parks, and explored Vancouver, now one of our favorite cities.

Also Everest turned 3, and he has grown into someone I genuinely love to hang out with. He’s funny and weird and makes me laugh until I wheeze. We have dance parties, take silly selfies, and haven’t found a trail yet that we don’t want to explore.

Halloween selfie

In November Everest and I hiked 30 miles together, and most of those were quiet morning jaunts, clambering over rocks, scraping up knees, and listening to birdsong. I cherish every one of those miles.

Cutest toddler in the world goes hiking in the desert, standing on top of rocksNow we’re ending on a high note. We just finished a family road trip that was just about as perfect as those things get. We started by seeing the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at The Broad in Los Angeles, and stayed the night in Solvang, a quirky Danish-themed town. Then we spent a few easy days at Morro Bay, listening to seals bark, running on the beach, and sipping hot cocoa as the sun sank.

Our last morning in Morro Bay is a memory that I hope lasts, as it seems to sum up the whole year for me. It’s Everest, barreling down the pastel beach, gathering sand dollars by the handful. He carries them to me, holds these urchins to his chest, makes careful piles of them. He tosses some into the ocean; the rest he tucks into the pockets of my old college sweatshirt.

This is abundance. My pockets hang heavy with sand and salt and shells, and my heart is so full it’s buoyant. I am sand dollar rich, and I have all the things that matter.

A teal sky in Morro Bay


2017 Best books + best songs mashup

December 9, 2017

To mark the end of 2017, I mashed up my favorite songs of the year with the best books I read this year – kind of like a “Like that tune? Then you’ll love this book!” (This is not my idea, by the way. I saw @keyairruh do this on Twitter with pairings of albums and books, and I loved it.)

Some of the books and songs are paired because they are thematically similar or share the same sensibility. A few of the songs had lyrics that reminded me of the text. And some are mashed together just because they evoked similar feelings in me.

Keep in mind, I’ve been sick for one-going-on-two weeks and I’m delirious right now. So if these pairings don’t make sense, blame it on Flupocalypse 2017. But if the results are totally awesome, then it was me, all me.


Split Stones • Maggie Rogers  + Goodbye, Vitamin • Rachel Khong

Thirty-year-old Ruth, fresh from a breakup, quits her job and returns home to help her father, who is slipping into dementia. This is a beautiful story about devotion and what it means to be a family, and I found it almost painfully relatable.



Dreams • Beck + The Humans • Matt Haig

I won’t try to describe this novel because then you won’t read it. I’ll just say that it made me feel better about being a human, which is exactly what I needed this year.



Blow Your Mind (Mwah) • Dua Lipa + We Are Never Meeting in Real Life • Samantha Irby

An essay collection that made me laugh until I wheezed. I bought this for my flight home from Spain, and I have zero regrets.



Bike Dream • Rostam + A Separation • Katie Kitamura

A meditative and suspenseful novel about the end of a marriage and the things people never reveal to each other.



Havana • Camila Cabello (ft. Young Thug) + Best Women’s Travel Writing, Vol. 11* • Edited by Lavinia Spalding

*Full disclosure: This anthology contains one of my essays, so you can trust me when I say it was the best book of the year. 

Also I had a hard time deciding between “Havana” and this song to illustrate it. I’m kind of obsessed with both of them. 



In Undertow • Alvvays + Little Fires Everywhere • Celeste Ng

The book starts with a literal fire and works backward to explore the conflicts that set the community ablaze.



Green Light • Lorde + Catalina • Liska Jacobs

The dark, deeply resonant story of a woman’s downward spiral.



The Underside of Power • Algiers + Born a Crime • Trevor Noah

The harrowing life of a comic coming of age during the end of apartheid in South Africa.



Quiet • MILCK + The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage •  Jared Yates Sexton

An honest and often disturbing look at the 2016 election.



Happy Wasteland Day • Open Mike Eagle + The Hate U Give • Angie Thomas

A riveting YA book about a girl who witnesses the shooting death of her friend at the hands of a police officer.



Over Everything • Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile + The One-Eyed Man • Ron Currie

A grieving man devotes himself to radical honesty, which turns out to be equal parts hilarious and infuriating.



Supermodel • SZA + One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter • Scaachi Koul

An essay collection from one of my favorite fresh voices.



Shh Shh Shh • Boss Hog + What You Don’t Know • JoAnn Chaney

A thriller that kept me up all night long.



The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness • The National + The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir • Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

One of the most exquisite books I’ve ever read. It’s a masterful memoir about obsession and how scars can last for generations.



Feel It Still • Portugal, the Man + The Power • Naomi Alderman

I’m still high on this book, in which women suddenly gain the power to shock people with their hands, an exhilarating antidote to the news cycle.



What were your top books and songs this year? Do you have any good pairings for me?

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