2019. Begin As You Mean to Go On

This was a year where I saw the endless sky above Montana, smelled the ravages of fire in California, and stood at the edge of the fantastic, sensing and savoring the sublime magnificence of edges along the Grand Canyon.

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At the Grand Canyon. April 2018. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

This was a year where I met my new nephew, watched my cousin get married, and smiled through my mom’s retirement. All occurring with so, so, much love. (Also CAPS! CAPS! CAPS!)

This was a year that began against instinct, where my heart felt glass half empty and frustrated. Where I realized that being selfish meant being purposeful in order to be of service to others, and steadfast in order to be respectful of my own time.

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A Turrell Skyspace at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. I love these installations, they are spaces of peace and balance. November 2018| Credit: Priya Chhaya

This was a year where due to the ongoing clamor and clangor there was the fear of watching our democracy erode. It is a manageable fear, but also persistent, making it clear that it should not be ignored.

This was a year of self-reflection. Of being mindful of my aversion to change, but working to confront it in order to grow.

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I spent my Thanksgiving squishing these feet. As expected, my nephew is adorable. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

So where 2018 was about believing. Of being. 2019 is about connection and rekindling joy, in spite of, in reaction to, with full out defiance.

Begin as You Mean to Go On

And so…

2019 is the year of writing. I will write every day — on this platform, in a journal, in letters, in prose, and in rhyme. I will tell you the stories I neglected to share last year about the ancient stars on a Montana night, and of talking to my people about storytelling and power in Las Vegas. I will work to take my sabbatical research (now over a year old) to the next level. And I will attempt to write honest truths of what I am feeling through fiction. In short I will practice my craft with more deliberation and care than I have ever given it before.

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Remember that time they decided to film Wonder Woman 1984 at the office and the pool looked like BB-8? | Credit: Priya Chhaya

2019 is also the year I find the Force. Last year I found my passion for Star Wars slowly disintegrating (ignoring direct commands, apologies to the other bounty hunters). In the coming months, I am looking for a restoration of that good will. Ignoring the hate, I will find my own balance. I will share with you all as I prepare for my first Star Wars Celebration, and look for the magic that I know is still there.

And finally 2019 is a year of learning new things. Of taking leaps that I never thought I would take — not only for a chance of greater happiness and joy, but also because change does not always have to be bad. I cannot control what is to come outside my four walls, but I can make decisions that will make me stronger. Wiser.

I will make a difference where I can.

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Montana sky from the West Coast Ranch. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Am I Am.

Am I

The only one
Who can mark the edges of time
As they slip by?

Am I
Singularly keeping score
For my life?

Yes.

I am
The only one
Who can turn the dial
Flick the switch
Take the next step

I am
In control
Understand the toll
And the whole
Of what I can be.

I am.

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A view of Seven Magic Mountains, a public art sculpture outside Las Vegas. April 2018. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Best of 2018

Movies: As with the previous year, my movie watching has been limited to Netflix films and big blockbuster movies. This year’s greatest movies were films that harnessed inclusion and diversity and proved that films led by people of color can dominate the box office. I write, of course, about Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. Neither high art, in the typical sense, but both masterful within their genre, which is much more meaningful. I am holding out my opinion on the Avengers because that was really only half a movie.

Worth a mention: I did like To All the Boys (on Netflix) and have re-lived my childhood with A Wrinkle in Time.

Books: In 2018 I read 75 books. Some were not great, but those that I can’t stop thinking about led the way with intricate language and narrative structures. Both Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller provided magnificent lyrical imagery to mythology. George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, had the potential for disaster, yet the story construction opened my eyes to possibility. And then there was the magic and wonder of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. 

“Daedalus did not long outlive his son. His limbs turned gray and nerveless, and all his strength was transmuted into smoke. I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” – Circe

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I totally re-read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense as a way to better understand a charachter’s motivation in Time’s Convert. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

This was also the year I found myself reading fantasy novels that stepped away from the Eurocentric tradition. Sabaa Tahir’s third installment Reaper at the Gates had me speechless, and I am so glad I was introduced to  Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand. Last year I talked a lot about the debut novel City of Brass (whose sequel is due out early 2019). With similar skill Suri takes her first novel and presents a world that was so culturally familiar, yet also beautifully fresh with its emotional conclusion. I also loved that while we will get more in the world Suri created, it is a novel able to stand alone. (Also see Markswoman).

While more of the norm I do have to call out Oathbringer, the third book in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve never known an author who can spin stories so complex and nuanced in such a short period of time.

“‘The question,’ she replied, ‘is not whether you will love, hurt, dream, and die. It is what you will love, why you will hurt, when you will dream, and how you will die. This is your choice. You cannot pick the destination, only the path.’” – Oathbringer

I also have to mention the history connection. Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, the story of Betty Reid Soskin in Sign My Name to Freedom, and in an odd way the vampire/witch All Souls Trilogy series by Deborah Harkness all fed my history loving soul this year. The latter is partially because Harkness, a historian herself, used that knowledge and skill to enhance a fantasy adventure rather than allowing it to bog down her narrative.

Television: Unsurprisingly, I still watch way too much television (though per my goals above, we’re going to work to change that). I want, however, to acknowledge the masterful finale of The Americans (The scene in the garage, and the train platform!), and say farewell (again) to the wonder that was Timeless. While the finale two weeks ago gave us a conclusion (or maybe not?), I’ll always wonder what could have been.

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Somewhere in the middle of the year Will showed up on my desk. I still do not know who my mystery benefactor is. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

I also spent the year watching the first two seasons of The Expanse which blew me away with its incredible cast and narrative, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed during the entire Brooklyn Nine-Nine run. I am also 100% on board with the new Doctor Who, and would watch the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel whenever I can.

Of course the best show for our times is The Good Place. We don’t deserve Janet. No one deserves Janet, but we are somehow lucky to have her in our lives. (The rest of the cast is incredible too).

Music & Podcasts: If my moving watching this year was abysmal, my music listening was even worse. I listened to a lot of the same music, over, and over, and over, again. Especially Only You by Yaz/Yazoo (1982). I know. It doesn’t make sense.

I did however find new classical music to adore – including the score to Black Panther which was amazing, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the cellist who played at the Royal Wedding.

2018 Ear Worms? Thank You, Next and Havana.

In terms of Podcasts – there is only one new podcast I started listening to. The official Good Place Podcast. You should listen, especially if you are not convinced about how awesome Janet is.

Museums: I saw a lot of incredible exhibitions this year. Some made their way into my attempts at poetry (No Spectators), others remained stuck in the recesses of my mind as part of my everlasting struggle to put pen to paper.

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Terracotta Army at attention. Incredible. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

If you are in the DC area make sure to check out ARTECHOUSE. It’s an amazing multi-sensory installation that shows how art and visualizations can come together for an incredible experience. While I just went to an exhibition about nature, last January I experienced the wonder of Cherry Blossoms.

In November, I found myself weeping while walking through  Harry Potter: The History of Magic at the New York Historical Society. No, it wasn’t because of the pop-culture phenomenon, rather it was finding myself unexpectedly face to face with a notebook by Leonard da Vinci, an astrolabe that belonged to Johannes Kepler, and ancient Chinese star charts. Seeing the  influences to J.K. Rowling’s work was – pun intended – magical.

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Walking through the Cherry Blossoms at ARTECHOUSE. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

But that is just the tip of what I saw this year. I finally made it to Alcatraz, whose post-prison history is fascinating and powerful. I saw an incredible exhibition about Contemporary Muslim Fashions at the deYoung Museum, and started off 2018 walking through the magnificent Terracotta Army at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

What I am not mentioning are the incredible programs put on by sites of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as part of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.  These three projects – at President Lincoln’s Cottage, The Woodrow Wilson House, and Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey all set a standard for inclusive storytelling through craft, dance, and history. More on this in the coming weeks.

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If you haven’t had the chance to see Nation to Nation at the National Museum of the American Indian, you must. Learn about the role of treaties and how they were broken between the United States and various Native American nations. I took my summer interns to this exhibition.| Credit: Priya Chhaya

And finally, as I mentioned above, I found peace amidst nature at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and coming through the fog into sunlight at Shenandoah National Park.

Theatre & Performance: I saw a lot of theatre this year. From Shakespeare to Broadway I was unexpectedly touched by performances of Camelot and the Inspector Calls.

This year I also spent a lot of time with the NSO Pops. From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at Wolf Trap, to Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back in concert at the Kennedy Center, they brought to life movie music that were key to successful storytelling. I also had the opportunity to see Black Violin in concert. If you remember last year I could not stop listening to them perform A-Flat and I was so glad to attend this concert live. A concert, at the Kennedy Center, where everyone was up on their feet feeling the music come to life.

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Star Wars. Nothing but Staaaarrr Waarrrs. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Did I mention I finally got to see Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me?

Finally, in 2018, I attended a few events that centered around inclusion and pop culture. I saw various cast members from the DC Comics television shows (Arrow, the Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and Black Lightning) at the event DC in DC in January, Then in the Spring, I heard John Boyega talk at Awesome Con. He was refreshing, and I am so glad he is a part of the Star Wars franchise.

Oh, and yes, I should let you know that I did see U2. Again. #NoRegrets.

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Look at all the Lukes @ Awesome Con 2018 | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Storytelling in 2018

While I didn’t write as much as I wanted to this year, I had the unique opportunity to co-produce our quarterly journal and work with some incredible colleagues to put together short videos on storytelling, art, music and intangible heritage. I also successfully co-chaired an amazing conference in Las Vegas, while also moderating the keynote address. Not to mention developing some incredible panels at PastForward in San Francisco.

Also I got to interview an astronaut. Not too shabby huh?

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Myself, Roland Miller (author of the piece on Interior Space, see below), Carson Bear, and Astronaut Paolo Nespoli.

…This is What Comes Next

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Driving through the fog at Shenandoah National Park. I hope this shutdown ends soon so that others can experience the beauty. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

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