2019 retrospective

The end of 2019 is nigh*. I have had possibly the longest year of my life and I have very little interest in categorizing the major life events neatly, but I don't want to let the year end without writing something. Instead of writing about 2019 the way I have written about 2018 and 2017, I want to highlight a photograph from each month of the year and accompany it with a brief story. Some of the photographs have not been edited but the majority of them are film scans.

I had a lot of expectations for 2019, being that I was born on the 19th of February in the year of the Boar in the Chinese Zodiac. Like Pisces in the Zodiac, the Pig comes last in the 12-month Chinese Zodiac cycle, because "the Pig was the last to arrive when the Jade Emperor called for the great meeting." Being a Piscean born in the year of the Pig is a convenient excuse for being at least five minutes late on a regular basis. It felt like a big year from the get-go; I had no clue what I was in for. The only thing I can definitively say about 2019 was that every last one of my expectations were shattered, in ways both exhilarating and heartbreaking.

Truly the only resolution I wanted to commit to this year were to continue creating. It's proven difficult - I have been in a creatively stagnant period since my mother died - but I can safely say I've done my best, given the circumstances. That's all one can ask for.

I took this picture at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland:

In January I took my first solo international trip to Ireland and the UK. I traveled to six cities in eleven days - Galway, London, Penrith, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin. I meant to travel to seven cities (Bath was the one I missed) but I got sick while I was in London and couldn't make that day trip happen. I enjoyed what might be the last of free healthcare in that country and learned that blackcurrant is a common flavor choice in England, even for anti-emetic drugs. I also stopped drinking black tea without milk in it. I took an incredible trip through the Scottish Highlands, and was particularly taken with Loch Lomond, as well as the Three Sisters mountain range in County Glen Coe, which I've featured at the end of this post. This picture below was taken in Loch Lomond:

I visited with Caitlin and Hayley in Glasgow, met their friends and partners, and had coffee with Laura in Dublin a couple of days later. In London I met an Indian doctor named Saif, who lives in Canada, who ended up in my hostel in Edinburgh the next day, and a fellow DMV native who told me within two minutes of meeting me that I "came from the wrong side of the (Potomac) river." I spent my last night in Dublin closing a bar called The Stag's Head with three Irishmen, one of whom supported our current president (though he couldn't vote for him), and learned a lot about intolerance. The other two Irishmen were a 19-year-old weed dealer who floated around all the bars in the area with his stash (but only drank Coke at the bar) and a man in his fifties who told me that his favorite TV show of all time, of any nationality, was The Big Bang Theory. I have a sweater that I still smell their cigarettes on.

Brief and cold as ever, February passed without too much fanfare. I turned 24 on the 19th, a Tuesday that found me in Long Island City for work. To the tune of having my expectations shattered, my post-work trip to the PS1 was prevented by the museum being closed on Tuesdays. I did, however, have a long talk with my uncle (someone I hadn't met until this July) while on my way to wine and dinner with my friends Nic and Vincent and Nora, and ended the night with a Big Gay Ice Cream cone on Nic's dime. I also visited Richmond at the end of the month to see my sisters Caroline and Sarah, and my two nephews Nate and Eli, and felt as heartbroken as I've ever felt saying goodbye to them. I snuck away from them to take this photo under the Nickel Bridge:

I can't think of much about March besides the fact that there were a few instances of springtime coming a little early (by New York standards, anyway). Caiti and I took a trip to IKEA that resulted in my first two houseplants, which are still in my room. It was still cold but we walked out on the Valentino Pier and Caiti took this picture of me, among others:

As the saying goes, March went out like a lion, and April picked up right where it left off. I learned what it was to have a weekend in March and lived that out in April. I set out to write a poem everyday, and succeeded, mostly. I interviewed Julie Pochron, my mentor who I'm glad to call a friend. On the last day of April I went to see The Mountain Goats (I think of John Darnielle as a different kind of mentor). I bought a new denim jacket and wore it on a long walk from the East Village to Hudson Yards on a particularly nice day, and spent an hour or so on the phone with my mom near the Vessel sculpture, which was brand new at the time. I took this photo in my backyard when the Bradford pears in my neighborhood started to lose their flowers, mimicking the cherry blossoms in Washington:

In May I took almost a week off to visit my parents before Mother's Day. We went to the National Gallery and they drove me by the White House so I could photograph myself giving it the finger. I also drove my dad down to Richmond for a day so I could get a tattoo by Katie Davis of a Highland Stag, based on the deer I fed in Glen Coe. Her tattoo is on the opposite leg from my first tattoo from four years ago, also done in Richmond by her husband Fred Pinckard. It felt good to have completed a cycle of sorts. I sat out back with Caroline and Ryan and my dad, on the grass where I took this picture years ago, and took this picture of a Richmond sunset:

The beginning of June saw the end of my longest romantic relationship, as well as the beginning of my earnestly working on my relationship with myself. I started going to Yoga to the People on St. Marks once a week, a routine I try to stick to (I have another tattoo that just finished healing and so I haven't been back since the first week of December, and god can I feel it in my body). I started listening to Bikini Kill after seeing them perform at Kings Theatre with Anastazia. I went back home for a brief weekend and saw Maureen and Matt for their twins' first birthday party. I saw Jon perform for the first and last time in a while. I remember being upset that my mom mostly stayed on the couch while I was in town, but not asking why. I meant to walk through these woods I photographed in May, but didn't get around to it:

I had big expectations for the summer months of July and August. I met Tyler in the middle of June and found myself unable to shake him through the beginning of July. When I found out my mother was sick less than a week into us properly dating, he had every right to cut and run, and not only did he stay with me, but he showed up for me and my family in ways I had no clue how to ask for. All I want to say about this summer, at the moment, is that I'm unbelievably grateful for every single person who helped my family and me through it, from my boss (who let me keep my job) to his assistants and the staff at the studios he frequents who put up with my remote work, from her hospice staff to the one nurse at Holy Cross who didn't treat my mom but stopped me to tell me she'd overheard our situation and gave me her sympathy and her strength, and every single friend and loved one who reached out and helped and sent love. I would not have been able to get by if I had not been so very loved, and I try my hardest to never forget that.

I split my time between New York and Maryland during the month my mother was in the hospital and hospice care. I shot about 16 rolls of film. In 2019 I really only shot film on my trip in January and this period. The lion's share of my film photos from Maryland were taken in the woods near the house I grew up in, around the same time of day, and they all look like this:

I was also grateful to be able to keep a trip I'd planned on taking with Kendall, Emily, Bianca, and Steph in the middle of August, to Kendall's parents' lake house in Georgia. I look back on the trip as the eye of the storm that saw the last days of my mother's life. I think back to riding Kendall's jet ski on Lake Oconee, feeling the turbulence of the water I was kicking up under me, but feeling my ability to right myself, to not tip over. I'm choosing to think about that as a metaphor for self-awareness (though I am not discounting how buoyant and tip-proof a jet ski is). I took this picture of the Georgia pines around the house:

Saying I wanted a reprieve from it all in September would be an understatement. I dragged myself back to yoga (I stopped going between the Thursday before we found out about my mom and sometime in September). I argued my way back into ICP for a brief time to be able to scan the film I'd shot. I stayed in New York for the entire month. I saw Elizabeth Warren address a crowd in Washington Square Park against a murky purple sky. I did my best to stay upright and did not always succeed, but I was a lot kinder to myself when I couldn't get back up. I met Tyler's mom, Maryanne. The next day I channeled the spirit that got me on a jet ski and started scooting around Brooklyn on Revel scooters. I took Tyler to a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of Julie's studio that same weekend, and was reminded that I know how to socialize and be a real person amid dealing with grief and loss. Here's one of the photos from this summer I was able to scan in September:

The next few photos will be from my phone. I have a lot of film left to process which I have been putting off purely because I'll have to pay for my film to be scanned, and I'm not quite ready to face that budgetary eventuality and lack of control.

A lot of October was spent organizing an event for my mother, at which point Tyler met most of my family. It was hard to focus on anything else this month. The following weekend Caiti and I went to New Jersey. I shot a lot of film, particularly of the grass I've been thinking about since I photographed it for my thesis in 2016. It felt very good to know that some things haven't changed since the last time I felt like my life was as upside-down as it sometimes feels like now. I also photographed that grass from afar:

November saw me back at Julie's studio to make contact sheets of my film, and to print on some leftover color paper that Tim gave me last year. Being back in the darkroom was renewing, but I wasn't shooting much of anything, the onset of cold weather made it harder to get out and do things. I did, however, start reading more earnestly. I made regular trips to both libraries I am members of (don't tell the NYPL I am not a Manhattan resident), I think I read around ten books from October to December. I've never been a person who's able to go back and count the number of books they've read in a given period (month, year, whatever), but I definitely read more in 2019 than I have in any previous year. I also went to the spa with Caiti in November for her 26th birthday. We went to Wawa before and after, as is our tradition. I began the process of saying goodbye to my therapist, whom I saw for the last time on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and took this photograph after one of our last sessions:

I had a GERD flare-up at the end of November that gave me painful heartburn for a good two weeks, and while I was able to see a gastroenterology specialist who I thought really helped me, I now have to call my insurance to prevent them from charging me $975 for a consultation. In 2020 I will ask to speak to a manager more often, when it comes to healthcare and student loans. December left me with not a lot of time to think about myself or my stress levels, but once I was able to finish working and buying gifts for everyone, I got on a train with Tyler to spend a few days before Christmas with my family. In 2019 I was able to see my nephews more than I ever have (but not my sister Lisa and her two sons this year), for which I'm incredibly grateful. I kept in my tradition of watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve, with Chinese food from Peter Chang, with Caroline, Ryan, and my dad. I took this on Christmas Eve right before the sun set:

It's been an incredibly difficult and challenging year but I am immensely glad for every single one of the pleasures I've been gifted, both simple and complex. I'm hoping 2020 is a little bit easier on me and the ones I love, but I now know that having made it through this year, I can handle basically anything.

* - Writing this, I am thinking of the bit from The Office when Jim is celebrating Dwight, who is dressed as Belsnickel, shouting, "He is FINALLY NIGH!!!"

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