A Very Hard Year
Looking back at 2021
On January 6th, 2021, we were in Los Angeles with my parents. My dad and I were watching CNN and working in the family room. I think Debbie was upstairs in her office and my mom was puttering around the house. And then incomprehensible images began flashing across the scene and we watched, in real time, an insurrection encouraged by the soon to be former president. It was surreal because many people tend to sneer at other countries with fragile democracies, as if American democracy is so strong as to be infallible. Suddenly, we had breathtaking evidence to the contrary. My father was particularly shaken because he comes from a country with a sometimes fragile democracy and he has experienced, first hand, how that country is demeaned in the American imagination and media. In many ways, the insurrection set the tone for the year. 2021 was a very hard year.
I had hoped that life would move toward a new normal, and there were days and even weeks where it felt like yes, we were all going to be okay, at least in those places where people care enough about the collective good to do the bare minimum to contribute to our communities’ well-being. And then there were the variants. And the endless prognosticating on social media by self-appointed Google epidemiologists. I am always stunned by the certainty with which people with no expertise in a field can make sweeping, inaccurate and sometimes dangerous statements or predictions. And then there were people who… I don’t know what to call them but they seem to thrive on crisis or existing in a constant state of heightened anxiety. It was like they replaced the omnipresent, foreboding tensions of the Trump administration with the foreboding tensions of the pandemic. They seem to want things to continue to get worse and worse so they can say they were right in reading the Twitter tea leaves.
There have been good moments. We went to Antarctica, which I am writing about for a magazine. It was an adventure, for sure. I saw icebergs and glaciers and penguins. Debbie turned 60 and I threw her a surprise party. It was an evening of good people and good libations and great dancing. We had our one year wedding anniversary and continued to enjoy spending time together which is really, really lovely. Max is adorable and sweet and funny and smart. My mom still has stage 4 lung cancer but her treatment is going exceedingly well. We got to spend a lot of time with my parents and that was also lovely. Life is short. Spend time with your loved ones now because you never know when they might disappear.
Writing was a struggle. It has been for a while now and I don’t know how to fix it. I put too much pressure on myself. I overcommit to projects as if I have more than twenty-four hours in my days. I am obscenely prone to missing deadlines and it all just makes me hate myself. I am writing two books I actually love, but it’s hard to just knuckle down and finish them. I think they’re pretty good but years of sniping, petty criticism have really just worn me the fuck down. That is to say, I think the books are good but I am equally certain they are terrible.
I started a newsletter and a book club this year and they were fun. I was particularly proud of the Emerging Writer Series. There is immense creative talent in this world and I appreciated the exposure to new to me writers. I continued with the Work Friend column over at The New York Times and was reminded, regularly, that a great many people are really unhappy in their jobs and our culture of overwork and the constraints of capitalism offer them little recourse. I also write a few essays for the Times. Cops don’t belong at pride, at all, so I shared my thoughts on that—namely that if gay cops want to attend pride, they need to leave their uniform and toxic profession at home. I have spent a lot of time thinking about some of the feedback that essay generated. Some readers don’t think I went far enough because, in their estimation, gay people shouldn’t be cops and cops shouldn’t be allowed at Pride in or out of uniform. I also wrote about the increasing toxicity of online culture and how people seem hell bent on making the social internet unusable. After watching Dave Chappelle’s comedy special, “The Closer,” I wrote about his brittle ego and how that is affecting the LGBTQ community and especially the trans community.
My writing appeared in a few other places. I wrote a really long essay, Writing into the Wound, for Scribd. I had a sexy little story, “Reach,” in the anthology, Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell. For the anthology Lolita in the Afterlife, I wrote an essay, “Ugly Beautiful,” about how Nabokov renders something so hideous so beautifully, and the complications arising from that aesthetic choice. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tessa Thompson for Town & Country and I also wrote a very short essay for them about being an acquired taste which, increasingly, I am fine with. During Oscar season, I was in conversation with Andra Day about her role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and suffering in art, addiction, and much more. Day is a real one. It was a satisfying conversation.
Love & Basketball is one of my favorite movies and I was quite surprised and happy when The Criterion Collection reached out and asked me to write an essay for their release of the film. Kelis packed up and moved to a farm outside of Los Angeles so I spoke with her about that adventure for Harper’s Bazaar. During that brief period when we were starting to socialize again, I wrote about being ready to entertain and spend time with friends again after so many months of isolation. OH WELL! And I wrote about the art of Calida Garcia Rawles and what it offers on how to bear witness to atrocity and injustice. T Magazine came to my house and watched me cook Chicken Milanese, and a good time was had by all.
Tressie and I hosted the second season of our podcast. I wrote a mediocre screenplay I hope I can make better. I pitched TV shows to various studios. I sold two of them. I got rejected a whole lot which is part of the process. I signed on to write a movie that will be pure fun and happiness and light. I joined the writers’ room of the Queer as Folk reboot and wrote an episode of television, some version of which will actually be produced for your viewing pleasure. The reboot is set in New Orleans and is quite different from the previous two iterations but I think people will really enjoy it. The cast is talented and sexy and you’re going to want to see what happens from one episode to the ext.
My Masterclass, by far the best professional experience I’ve had thus far, debuted in February. I’ve really enjoyed how people are taking the class and finding it useful to their writing practice. I worked on a lot of projects people may never know about and it was fine. Speaking engagements started back up, which was a real relief, and it was great to move from Zoom back into physical spaces, even if things looked a little different with audiences wearing masks. I visited Wyoming for the first time and it was beautiful, truly beautiful. I started an imprint with Grove Atlantic, Roxane Gay Books, and the first three books will debut in 2023. I enjoyed some incredible theatre as Broadway re-opened. It was wonderful to experience live theatre again. I really love theatre and find it creatively invigorating. I saw a lot of great visual art, too. I grew my little collection. I read a few books, and stay tuned for my annual reading round up.
I got a new tattoo for the first time in years. I bought an Ergatta rowing machine, magically thinking I would enjoy it. I did not. If you want it, come get it please. When I write it all out it seems like maybe I did get a few things done but it feels like I got nothing done because on so many things, I was just treading water. And I’ve had the hardest time just saying no. A lot of the time, when I say no, people think it is a negotiating tactic but it isn’t. I’m saying no because I can’t or don’t want to do whatever thing you are asking me to do. No means no! But when they come back with some story about why they need me to say yes I back down because I hate disappointing people. Or they send a passive aggressive email that induces intolerable guilt. I hate it. Anyway, I started going to therapy twice a week to deal with this. I think it is helping.
In July, my brother Joel died. He was 43 and left behind a wife, two children, siblings and parents and cousins and a huge circle of fiercely loyal friends. My world imploded and remains imploded. I loved him so much. I miss him so much it is a constant and searing ache. Life goes on, sure, but his absence is profound. In the wake of his death, everything I do feels… pointless. Insignificant. I don’t need a pep talk or anything. I’m just depressed.
Whatever tenuous connection I had to making progress with my writing vanished in July. I walk around the house these days saying, “I guess I’m not a writer anymore,” and it makes me sad because I do still love writing. I’m working on some exciting projects. I know how lucky I am but luck is powerless in the face of grief. If I have a goal for the coming year it is that I hope I will get back to that place where writing is a joyful experience instead of whatever this is. And I hope I can remember that feeling of making a deadline again. I figure if I have just two little goals they might be more achievable.
Enough about me. How was your 2021? What do you hope for yourself in 2022?
Several of you have asked about forthcoming Audacious Book Club selections. I have made my choices through September:
January: Noor by Nnedi Okarafor
February To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
March How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
April Memphis by Tara Stringfellow
May Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton
June Trust by Hernan Diaz
July Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
September How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo