The Obligatory End(and Beginning)-of-the-Year Lists

For the past several years, shortly after Christmas, my friend Scott has sent a list to some of his friends, detailing the big moments – both good and bad – of the year. I stole this concept in my private journals, and each year, after I returned home from visiting my family in Georgia for Christmas, I would take quiet time away and reflect over the past year.

This is the first year that I have not had to go digging through a box to find last year’s journal; I have fallen so out of the habit of keeping a journal for anything more than meeting notes or random ideas here and there that I have not even completed the journal I began last year on December 31, 2010. Today, I sit at my desk, armed with a cup of tea and some homemade Chex mix, to reflect on this year.

My friends often joke me because my twenties have been so full of change and development and growth (and at times, distress), that surely I’ll max out at some point and hit smooth sailing. I have to say, even though this year has been full of change and growth as well, I feel the sailing has been smooth. I’ve hit a stride in my life where, even though I work too much and feel stressed out almost all of the time, I know that I’m on the right path.

How you roll when you write about food | Photo by Andrea Nolan

This year started out with a leap of faith:  I quit my steady and stable job at a law firm to go back to teaching. This meant that from January to March, I had no paycheck coming to me. I taught two classes and worked all the hours I could at a local Greek restaurant (and let me tell you, that place is charming and delicious, but the tips there suck – though from what I understand, tips everywhere suck). There were several times when I thought I wouldn’t make it, when I thought I’d end up a couple hundred dollars short and have to admit defeat. But I did make it.

And while I was trudging through that stretch of working all the time and barely scraping together money for rent and utilities, I wrote. I maintained a weekly column, My CSAcation, for I wrote a book review for Fiction Writers Review and for The Virginian-Pilot. And I grew, taking on more responsibility, and eventually I became a food editor for AltDaily. That led me to writing for a new magazine, Distinction, which is a major step in the right direction. Though I’m no longer with AltDaily, I continue to write, and that experience I had as an editor for four months taught me so much, really immersing me in the food writing (and local food) scene.

I just finished a semester of insanity, teaching four classes on top of being an editor, freelance writer, and contractor for my old law firm. Total insanity. But I made it. And as I begin planning for next semester, I have that blissful security of feeling like I’m in the right place, doing the right thing. I’m so grateful for where this year has taken me. I often bitch about not writing fiction, but I’ll get there. I wrote my butt off this year, and that feels good.

And even though this semester of insanity, with the writing and the juggling of jobs and what not, I’ve managed to end up in an amazing relationship with a fantastic woman who makes me ridiculously happy.

The year hasn’t all been great. It’s had dark moments, sad ones, times when I thought things would turn out horrible, that I would fail. I’ve lost people I loved. And as I look back, I see a year that was full. It wasn’t always just good or just bad, but it was full. It was busy. It was complex. It was surprising. And it was full. And that fullness is satisfying.

I’m not brave enough to publish resolutions or intentions or goals for 2012, so instead, I’ll make a few fun lists of 2011.

Books I Read in 2011

East of Eden (John Steinbeck):  Fantastic, beautiful book. I can’t believe I waited until this year to read it, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.

Her Fearful Symmetry (Audrey Niffenegger):  Most disappointing book I read this year. I was really looking forward to it after The Time Traveller’s Wife, which was amazing. But her second novel was a major let-down.

In Praise of Falling (Cheryl Dumesnil):  I picked this book up at AWP Conference in Denver as one of my batches of books at the Book Fair. It was lovely.

Cornbread Nation 4:  The Best of Southern Food Writing (John T. Edge):  Do I even need to say it? This was a fun read, and I learned so much about New Orleans cuisine (as this book was published after Katrina and therefore focused on a lot of the restaurants and families effected by it).

Tender at the Bone:  Growing Up at the Table (Ruth Reichl):  I intended to just read a chapter of this book so I could teach it to my freshmen. I ended up four chapters deep before I realized I was going to read the whole thing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I sort of want to be Ruth Reichl.

The Abstinence Teacher (Dan Perrotta):  A fun read. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, and that feels accurate.

Alligator Dance:  Stories (Janet Peery):  I’m not just saying this because she was my teacher and mentor and taught me about fiction writing:  these stories were gorgeous. Read it.

The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty):  Okay, the thing I love and hate about some of my favorite authors is that they can make things work in fiction that should not work and that, in a fiction workshop, would be tossed aside and criticised as an amateur manuever that should be swiftly corrected before seeking publication. That’s how I felt about The Optimist’s Daughter. The entire funeral scene should not have worked, but it did, and Eudora Welty’s a show-off. Fantastic.

Run River (Joan Didion):  My first Didion. It was okay. It kept my attention and everything, but I didn’t love it.

Silver Sparrow (Tayari Jones):  Again, I’m not just saying this because she was one of my teachers once upon a time, or even because she’s a Georgia girl like me. Tayari Jones writes beautiful books, and this one continues that standard.

Holidays on Ice (David Sedaris):  I went months without reading a book, so when the semester slowed down a little towards the end, I read this holiday book by Sedaris. It’s a fun and irreverent read, perfect for Christmas.

Places I Travelled To in 2011

Denver, Colorado

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Savannah, Georgia

So here’s to the end of a really great year, and the beginning of a brand new one. And to conclude, here’s a writer-focused column by the always-lovely Dear Sugar to end the year.

5 thoughts on “The Obligatory End(and Beginning)-of-the-Year Lists

  1. I’m truly honoured [note pretentious British speling] to have helped inspire you to share this with us, Dana.You, in kind, are always an inspiration to me as well; whenever I write anything, I always look to my WWDSD bracelet (imaginary, as far as you know) for creative guidance. I love your writing; I always have. You have that quality that makes the reader want to get to know you better and wish he or she could hang out with you more. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s how I feel when I read whatever you write. Please keep sharing, and maybe cal your old pal Scott the next time you make it down south to Atlanta : ). Continued awesomeness in 2012!!

  2. The paper journal ended up as an exercise in futility for me. I do have an online one I’ve kept since 1999. Good luck in the new year; still haven’t convinced my wife to try the CSA stuff. :-/

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