My friend, Alexandra, regularly sends me ideas for posts, encouraging me to write. She recently sent me three ideas to close out 2016 and one of them was to list my top 12 posts of 2016. I spent some time reading through my posts of 2016 and realized how much I struggled with the weight of world events and with writing itself. The truth is that I was not very prolific this year but despite that, there are still things I wrote of which I'm quite proud. I've become fond of lists of five so I thought I'd share my five favorite things I wrote in 2016 and why:
1. I love who Minnesotans become when it snows (Star Tribune, February 2016)
I remember the day I wrote this, remember laying on the couch wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt and warm wool socks while the world outside my living room was thick with snow. That morning, I felt a deep love for Minnesota and an infinite belief in the goodness of people that seems almost quaint now.
I grew up in Kansas City. Our winters were nothing like the ones I’ve enduried since moving to Minnesota 24 years ago. I've adapted. But when friends who live in warmer, less snowy places ask why I live here I don’t always have a good answer. But today, if you ask me why, I will tell you that I love who we become when it snows. We are the best versions of ourselves — thoughtful, friendly, compassionate, generous and kind.
Be careful out there. Stay warm. I mean it.
2. The Waffle Iron (Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, March 2016)
This piece won first place in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition but it was special to me long before that. I took it from an essay that was meant to be the opening essay of my book. The longer essay which is titled "The Days Are Paper Thin" was written in 2013 and I hope someday it finds a home and is published because it is one of my favorite things I've written.
Maybe late at night when the house was dark and quiet, she sat with her beer and cigarette, stared into the night and hoped to do better. My mother and I could not have been more different but maybe we had this one thing in common--a desire to do better for our kids. She carried a waffle iron around for 30 years and now I make perfect waffles for my kids. Maybe this is what doing better looks like. Maybe it just takes time.
3. There Are No Safe Havens Anymore (Up Popped A Fox, June 2016)
After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, I wrote this as I reflected on the role gay bars played in my life. Though it was related to a specific event, I believe the heart of this post is really the ways in which the LGBT community struggles to find safe places and that safety is becoming increasingly an illusion. See? Things started getting a little dark, didn't they? And this paragraph may be more relevant than ever:
With the fight for marriage equality over, many people have acted as if the fight for LGBTQ equality is over too, but legal protections can't erase the pervasive homophobia and transphobia in this country. I've heard people say that coming out doesn't matter anymore, that we are living in a "post-gay society," that being gay "just isn't a big deal anymore." But that is not the reality of many in the LGBTQ community. If you have any doubt, look to Orlando. People went to a gay bar to celebrate Pride and were killed for it.
4. A Small Room (Up Popped A Fox, August 2016)
This year, I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that my kids are getting older. The passage of time is harder and harder to ignore and I found myself holding onto the significance of small moments. Every once in awhile when writing, I find the words to say exactly what I am feeling. When that happens, regardless of the impact it has on anyone reading, it becomes special to me. This was one of those times.
The room has many layers of paint and life and, somehow, it contains even more versions of all of us. We've talked about selling the house after the kids are gone and I imagine a realtor and strangers standing in that room wondering how to use a small space and, if I could, I would tell them not to worry - it's amazing how much a small room can hold.
5. To the undecided voter (Up Popped A Fox, September 2016)
This made this list simply because it was one of the most widely shared posts from this year. It's a solid piece of writing and a raw and emotional plea that, ultimately, made little difference.
May you never wonder what will happen to your family as a result of an election.
May you never have to comfort your children in the face of such uncertainty.
May you never know the fear that comes with waiting as the majority votes on the rights of minorities, on your rights.
May you never know the pain of listening to friends and family praise a party or candidate that has attacked you.
May you never know the harassment and violence that comes when a candidate empowers bigots to act on their hate.
May you never know how exhausting it is to fight for your right to love, to yearn for a better life, to walk in the world as your true self or simply exist within a system that was built to exclude you.
May you never know the powerlessness that comes with seeing people you respect claim there is no difference between two candidates even when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The post ends with the question, "What will happen to us?" I'm not sure any of us are prepared for the answer.
2016 was a tough year and I was often at a loss for words. May we all find our words and voices in 2017.