2023: Be in Service. Be Useful. Do Good.

Last year I made a clear choice about how I wanted to approach 2022. I wanted to live. Live without overthinking, live without feeling scared, live without taking a (reasonable) risk.  And so I traveled, I celebrated turning forty, I made some big decisions about what I wanted out of my life going forward. I had some unexpected experiences that forced me to adapt, change, and approach relationships and the status quo in a different way. I wrote 50,000 words for a novel I continue to dream about. And while I wasn’t always successful I realized that it was all right to take the unexpected path to reach my destination.

A view of one of the monasteries at Meteora in Greece. This was not on our original itinerary, but at the last minute we booked a tour with a local tour guide. One of the best decisions we ever made.

However, within all that self-reflection and acceptance, there was one thing missing. When I started working with a coach in January 2022 we talked about what I wanted next for my life. Some of it was talking about what I did not want, while other goals were more specific.

But what was a clear through line on the other side of the equation was a desire to be of service to others. And while I know that as a volunteer board member for the National Council on Public History I serve our members and the field, that work is still, in essence, tied to the way I have shaped my life around my profession.

I want that to change.

A view of the stadium in Frankfurt during the Ed Sheeran concert in September 2022. It felt so good to be part of a collective experience again.

In December I read (and listened) to Bono’s memoir about the genesis of U2 and the work—in collaboration and partnership with many others—he and the band have done for debt relief, and campaigns to find and fund treatment for HIV/AIDS in Africa. At one point Bono describes his father as saying “…but above all, be useful. That was his modus, it always seemed to me, a modus that became a prayer in our family. Simple. Direct. Make us useful, dear God. We’re available. How can we be useful in this world where we find ourselves?”

It is this idea of usefulness—that first surfaced in January 2022—that I returned to throughout last year. As I gathered with my friends, visited family in Seattle and San Francisco, took to the rapids in West Virginia, ate my way through Vancouver (pictured below are two of the dishes from Botanist), marveled at the wonder that was Greece, wandered through the city of Stuttgart, Germany, and watched my family fry a turkey in Colorado, I asked myself not only what can I do, but rather what more can I do.

For Michelle Obama—in her new book— it comes down to a fundamental question: “can I afford to make my world a little bigger? I believe the answer is almost always yes.”

Last fall I put a few things in motion that will start me properly on this journey. They are small commitments that I hope will grow, but it’s a start. And while I know the direction I am hoping to go, I am interested to hear from you. What do you do to be of service to your community, to your city, to your family?

In addition to this public commitment I am making, I am also looking forward to 2023 for other reasons: a trip to India, my annual in person—hooray—NCPH meeting in Atlanta, a long-delayed trip to Maine, and the self-publication of my second kids book (more on that later). However, before we go forward, we must look back. Here, as always, is my review of things I consumed, wrote, and accomplished in 2022.  

My Annual Book Census

In 2022 I read 130 books that were collectively 30,588 pages, 447.65 hours. I started strong, slowed down in the middle of the year, before finishing my final book on December 29th.

  • As in years past I read more fiction (90%) than nonfiction (10%) of which 18% were print, 48% digital, and 35% audiobooks.  
  • Many of my audio books were a part of series I have previously recognized. The major new standouts are all books narrated by the authors: Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller, Bono’s Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence, and naturally the Great Mythology Trilogy written and narrated by Stephen Fry.
  • The genre categories on The StoryGraph aren’t quite as precise as I want them to be so I did my own count: 28 books fall in the strictly romance category while 30 are mysteries that have an element of romance in them. I continued my run of Lady Detective series this year adding in series by Grace Burrowes (Lady Violet Investigates), Andrea Penrose (Wrexford & Sloane), Sherry Thomas (Lady Sherlock), and one series that has interesting female characters, but is centered around male detective by C.S. Harris (Sebastian St. Cyr).
  • 37 books have a sci-fi, fantasy, magic, or magical realism elements.  I loved Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, and Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine.
  • 13 non fiction books including a book on prayer, four memoirs (Fatima Ali, Bono, Dave Grohl and Stanley Tucci), and Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart.  
  • I also finished off a few series (a tragedy). In an unexpected move The Untold Story capped off the Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, I listened to the ending of the Meghan Whalen Turner Queen’s Thief series with the final book Return of the Thief, and the full series of Lady Violet Investigates by Grace Burrowes. I also caught up with two series and am looking forward to the new books/hoping we’ll get more for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries.
  • My rough count of books has me reading books by 31 authors of color, and 47 female identifying authors. I also appear to have read at least 12 books that had major characters with LGBTQ+ storylines (either as the central story, or as part of their identity).
In February I visited Seattle on my way to San Francisco to hang out with my new nephew. We took a stop at a project colleagues of mine have been working on for years. Learn more about the Panama Hotel.

My top 10 books:

  1. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
  2. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
  3. Atlas of the Heart Brene Brown
  4. Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono
  5. The Jasmine Throne/The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri
  6. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson
  7. Project Hail Mary by Andy Wier
  8. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
  9. The Sentence by Louis Erdrich
  10. Return of the Thief by Meghan Whalen Turner

And finally, a shout out to my friend Julia Rocchi, whose book Amen? Questions for a God I Hope Exists brought me a different kind of joy, one filled with loads of happiness in seeing a friend’s dream fulfilled.

With my friend, Julia Rocchi at her book launch.

Theatre & Exhibitions

This was an interesting Theatre year. I was lucky enough to see two versions of Much Ado about Nothing (Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC), and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre), two versions of Midsummer Night’s Dream in unique locations (Folger Shakespeare Company at the National Building Museum, and in Vancouver with Bard on the Beach). However, the two shows that still stick in mind are the Parable of the Sower opera which was fascinating to see on stage having loved the book, and STC’s production of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci which was part dance, part reading, part history lesson amidst a stage set up like a cabinet of curiosity. It was brilliant.

In terms of exhibitions there are two favorites. One is the flower show at the National Trust Historic Site Lyndhurst, located in Tarrytown, New York. I had heard about this show for the longest time, but this was the first chance I had to see it in its glory. It did it not disappoint.

On the other end of the spectrum is a show still running at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Called Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight. A multidisciplinary show that tells the story of tells the story of “Raven, the creator of the world and giver of the stars, moon, and sun using glass sculpture, light and soundscapes. I have more to come about this exhibition but if you are in the area I recommend checking it out.

Television

I did a terrible job tracking the television I watched this year. I would start series and then completely forget about them, coming back months later. Part of it is that there are a bazillion stream services and my ability to keep track has totally disappeared. But here is a list of television shows that I enjoyed in 2022.

  • The Expanse. Remember this? It ended a year ago and I am still thankful we had a show like this on the air for as long as we did. Here’s to slowly making my way through the books.
  • This is Us. I admit I cried at some point in every single episode of this show. But talk about hitting all the right emotional notes and sticking the landing in every sense.
  • His Dark Materials. This just ended in December and even though I knew how it was going to end I still wasn’t prepared for the finale. Here’s hoping for that we might get that last book in the new trilogy soon.
  • Andor + Obi Wan Kenobi. Andor is a constant reminder just how good Star Wars can be when it isn’t always looking in the rearview mirror to stories they have already told. What a refreshing look at the building of the Rebellion. On the other hand I liked Obi Wan for the nostalgia factor, and while there was some total retconning, who did not adore seeing a young Leia Organa.
  • Bridgerton Season 2. I know it wasn’t perfect, but this series continued to bring me a lot of joy. For more listen to my podcast episode with the ladies from First Impressions.
At Lyndhurst Mansion during their annual flower show.

Kicking off the new year, I am finally episodes away from catching up on Ted Lasso, and just started Three Pines on Amazon which, unexpectedly, is really digging into the history of Canadian residential schools and the traumatic legacy that they inflicted on Indigenous people. Also all of you people who said “Priya, watch Leverage”—I am looking at you LW—that was an excellent binge, and its sequel series Leverage Redemption is equally fun.

The stage looking out onto a “beach” at Vancouver at the Bard on the Beach production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Movies

  • Spiderman No Way Home (So. Many. Spidermen. Theatre)
  • Everything Everywhere All At Once (Michelle Yeoh is AMAZING. Theatre)
  • Matilda the Musical (Love the adaptation. On TV)
  • Good Luck to You Leo Grande (Both Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack are great. On TV)
  • Wakanda Forever (How could you not cry through this movie. But also very cool set up for the future. Theatre)
  • Enola Holmes 2 (It was just fun. On TV)

We’re just going to shout out six different movies that I enjoyed/appreciated this year. The first one was technically released at the end of 2021 but I didn’t see it until February. These are the five that I am glad I saw either in the theatre or on TV. Not on this list but I suppose it should be acknowledged is RRR which was something else, and definitely spurred a lot of conversation amidst my various friend groups in terms of the story and the crazy bonkers fight scenes and effects.

The stage of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the National Building Museum. A Folger Shakepeare Company production.

Music

Of the new music I played this year I think Lizzo’s “Birthday Girl” and “You’re Special” are on my repeat often playlist. I also got to see Ed Sheeran live and in concert in Frankfurt, Germany so that was pretty much the musical highlight of the year as it was also my first concert back after a three-year hiatus of concert going.

Finally, a quick shout out to a friend of my family Tejas Singh who put out an EP this year with new music. Five new songs that I really like.

Podcasts

Podcasts were a bit hit or miss this year. I need to go through and re-curate them. However I did start (but need to catch up on) Collected from the Smithsonian, Longer Tables from Jose Andres, and finally listened to Wind of Change which was as manh of you said pretty amazing!

I was also a guest speaker on two different podcasts which were fun. If you want to listen to my take on Bridgerton Season 2 and Ms. Marvel check out these links

Writing

On the surface this feels like a lot less writing than usual. What is not reflected below are the 50,000 words I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo, finishing the November writing challenge for the first time in a long while. A few of the things I wrote that month will surface early in 2023.

I also tried my hand with some poetry, posting pieces on Instagram as an accompaniment to stories that I wrote on my blog or images I took on my travels. It was a fun experiment that I hope to continue in 2023.

The interior of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado. Fun fact: The hotel is not named after the Unsinkable Molly Brown who did stay there for two weeks after surviving the Titanic.

I love everything I wrote for my personal blog, while content from work that I am most proud of include the People Saving Places audio series (Sidney Clifton, Ujijji Davis Williams, Kelly Uyeoka, Sarah Bronin, and Corrina Gould—links below) my interview with Bartunde Thurston about America Outdoors and the incredible story about the Williamsburg Bray School. I also am really proud of the two conversations I developed for Preservation Month that featured former Aspire Awardees a group of incredible podcasters. I also edited about 114 stories in total on both of the National Trust’s websites.

Below is a full list of my writings for the year.

…this is what comes next

FANgirl Blog:

Imagining a New World at FUTURES

SavingPlaces.org & Forum

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