I’ve done this end of year survey for so many years now and I never, ever remember how emotional it’s going to be or how long it’s going to take. I wasn’t even sure where to put it! (Thanks Tumblr.)
Anyway, here’s 2017, and here is what happened in 2018.
What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?
Set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, albeit briefly. (We hiked from Big Bear Lake up to the trail on our wedding anniversary, then rested in utter blissful isolation at the top for 20 minutes.)
For all the time I’ve spent with other people in hospitals, I’d never been admitted overnight myself before. I think it’s possible the first night in 2018 I truly slept well was in the hospital.
Last year I said: I have such a great answer to this that I’m still not ready to write about. Ask me in person and I might tell you. I am just about ready to write it out, but the really weird part here is how the one semi-tangible memento I have from that 2017 first is a photo of a single tarot card I was dealt — from what turns out to be the same beautiful tarot deck I now own (my first), courtesy a competitive gift swap at a holiday party hosted by my new boss in New York.
Oh, and I went to the 9/11 memorial for the first time, and found it odd but also peaceful.
Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
Last year I said: Writing, always. Reading more. And finding a way to host maybe monthly dinners for small groups of our friends at home.
I did some writing, then stopped again, then went back a bit to keeping an inconsistent journal for myself only, which if nothing else helped me keep track of my more dramatic mood swings through the fall. I did read quite a bit more, and due to the new commute also spent a considerable amount of time listening to podcasts. We did not start hosting monthly dinners, but I tried hard to hold onto my biggest pledge from 2016 that people are the point and continue to push ourselves to go out or have them over or just connect.
I have been quite contemplative about 2018 for the entire back of this year so 2019’s resolutions feel more well developed than usual. At work, I want to center my own creativity and leadership. I took two days mid-holidays to wrap up some unfinished business from 2018 and plan in detail what that means and it ultimately felt like a really solid investment in my future rather than an interruption.
I want — need — to define and draft one serious writing project on my own time. I have this slightly-scary getting-older feel like if I can’t do it soon I’ll stop believing I’m capable of it at all, and I know that’s fundamentally bullshit but I’m willing to live with the fear a bit if it gets me motivated.
I already jumped back into working out (why not just work out every day during the holidays, she asked) and several other healthy-eating-type hobbies (doc said mediterranean diet, basically so I said, try to like eating olives! Obsess over making delicious mezze!).
Did anyone close to you have a child?
May I say that my niece and nephew are just utterly delightful small children now whose company we enjoy very much and I wish they lived closer?
Did anyone close to you get married?
We did attend one lovely wedding, which included possibly the champion of all single-serving friends, a former soap star who’d met the groom while doing ayahuasca together in Peru: “He thought he was a chicken — to be fair, he thought we were all chickens.” Also featured at the reception: the disgraced, never-barred former general counsel of my onetime employer, who is as loud as ever in a public setting and yet literally pretended he didn’t recognize me. My point here though is that all I ever want of a wedding or funeral is the charming, embarrassing specificity that rings true to who the person/people are, and this most hipster of Brooklyn nuptials did precisely that.
Did anyone close to you die?
For what a mess of a year 2018 has been, I believe the answer here is no.
What countries did you visit?
We went to Puerto Vallarta in February to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first date and the fact that the Oscars weren’t until March. We had a long-ish weekend in New York including a wedding. We spent a beautiful cold fall week at Big Bear in a cabin with Jamie and Chris. We’re planning a trip for next summer through some European seaside towns that I am already super excited about.
What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?
Last year I said: Confidence the pendulum will in fact swing back from fascism. And I will say I think the midterm elections helped a lot in ways I truly didn’t expect. Generally speaking my faith in resistance sits more squarely with, well, civil disobedience, protest, and powerful narratives speaking truth to power. But getting out in the field to canvass door-to-door made me admit how electoral politics and voting rights are deeply important to me — and in their own way represent my greatest personal Career Path Not Taken. I was also reminded that for all the many ways I think American democracy is broken and built on an inherently racist, exclusionary premise, it’s another route we absolutely can and must use to help save lives and secure a more just country.
What hasn’t changed: eventually, when I’m burned out on other people’s political hot takes about what the Democrats are doing wrong and trying to decide where on a ledge spanning hopeful to cynical I can cling on any given day, I call my baby brother (whose quite specific expertise on what it will take to turn Texas blue is particularly relevant right now) and we spend hours hashing through it all, and I feel better after. This year I also called my mom a few times and was reminded how she has been angry about men’s incursion into women’s lives for a hell of a lot longer than I’ve been alive, and that for all sometimes modern identity politics are a new language for her she is still a person who will call out racism — even if that means she disrupts a dinner party at an old colleague’s house to argue why kneeling during the anthem is absolutely patriotic.
In 2019, I want to remember how often the best antidote to feeling helpless or unfulfilled is to stop thinking about myself and find more concrete ways to be generous and giving to other people. I want to be kind and supportive and stop second-guessing whether I have to make some epic pledge or project a fear that I won’t be able to sustain amount of time commitment — I can always simply listen better and more whole-heartedly in the moment and take tiny immediate actions that might temporarily help relieve someone’s suffering or struggle. Is there a word that captures the opposite of micro-aggressions? That’s what I’m aiming for. I think sometimes I am better at structural generosity than I am interpersonal, and I want to be more deliberate in correcting that gap in 2019.
What date from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
It’s more like 10 days or so: the last week of June, I got and negotiated and accepted a job offer, gave notice and broke the news to my staff, and then couldn’t understand why getting through all that didn’t seem to make me feel any physically better, didn’t lessen the heavy, anxious pressure that seemed to be weighing down my entire body but especially my chest. By the next Monday I was in the hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery, and after a week of complications and recovery, I spent July at home doing less than I ever have in my adult life. I’m still coming to terms frankly with how the way I’d been holding so much stress in my body for most of the year before that point made it nearly impossible to recognize that something bigger was really wrong.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Survived is always a valid answer here but feels especially so in 2018. I am kind of belatedly admitting to myself how much a creature of routine I like to be, and having just about every aspect of my daily routine, from what I eat to where I go, change from the first half of this year was incredibly disruptive. Given all that, I think I handled things pretty well. (Will I ever learn to give myself an A not graded on a curve? Time will tell.)
The truest answer here is the biggest and the hardest: I spent so much of 2017 and 2018 having to clean up men’s messes. Specifically and not at all coincidentally white men. Men whose misconduct derailed my own career goals when my time and attention and plans had to shift because I was left to manage the aftermath. Men who lied to my face and shook my faith in my own ability to judge character or truth or continue to invest in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Men whose misogyny and mediocrity allowed them to openly threaten my professional future, and whose cavalier confidence that there would be no consequences for doing so was in fact absolutely upheld by HR and their corporate bosses.
When I say that in 2019 I resolve to center my own creativity and leadership, I am also saying that I will no longer do work that helps reward the underperformance and bad behavior of men, or of women in positions of power who do not reach back to support others. I am leaving that shit behind, along with the narrative I found myself too stuck in for too long where all I could feel and see was how betrayed and unfair it felt to have had no real choice but to quit a job I was very good at. That is true, too, and it sucked. It broke my fucking heart to sit across from dozens of phenomenally smart young women (and men) and feel I had no choice but to be blunt about how real sexism in the workplace still is and why I was leaving a team I built and was tremendously proud of.
Maybe two months before I left CBS I went to an amazing Poynter Foundation daylong seminar for women in journalism. A speaker asked who had experienced sexism or harassment or assault at work and the entire goddamned room of some 80 women raised their hands. We know this is happening. And yet I have spent months now writing and deleting tweets that did anything more than obliquely imply the reasons I left publicly. I am still afraid, somehow, that a written record will one day be used against me. But it’s time to leave 2018 behind, and I can’t do that without saying at least this much.
There was a great opportunity for me to instead work at a job that is challenging and empowering, and it’s for the best all around, but to be clear: it was an utter failure of CBS leadership and HR that I left, and everything you have heard about that company’s culture of impunity and deep-rooted sexism is true, and then some.
On the plus side, 2018 turned out to be a year that a sudden departure of a smart woman from CBS didn’t require that much explanation. My last day in the office was two days before The New Yorker investigation into Les Moonves we’d heard rumors of for months finally came out, not that it ultimately changed so much beyond the very top rungs. The same senior leadership who knew exactly why I was leaving have made no meaningful changes to the most problematic players. I hate that so many talented colleagues and former staff who are still there continue to be strung along by vague promises of internal reform, though I know they are smart enough to be skeptical, too.
I am very good at what I do. I am a good boss, a good strategist, and a good catch. I am the candy. When I decided that I was well past my personal limit for bullshit at CBS, I was able to leave quickly and for a better job — and for a competitor. There were some good strokes of fortunate timing and connections — that is to say, my accomplishments in the past 20 years and the respect I earned from former colleagues over the course of my career meant that I had a number of solid alternatives present themselves as exit strategies. But I will not diminish the significance of being able to take myself out of a hostile, toxic environment on my own terms, months ahead of my personal deadline. When I look back at this year, that’s the part I’m trying hard to remember first. I survived.
What was your biggest failure?
Generally speaking, I am always struggling to forgive myself for falling short of what I’d hoped to do on any given day or, like, with my life. This is the work. I’m grateful to my friends in recovery for having introduced some language that at least helps me see this compulsion toward perfection not as something that will ever be cured and instead as a commitment I make to manage every day.
A specific failure that I suppose I had to learn first-hand was that I could not use a kind of blunt force meditation to fix or feel better about a truly awful situation, and that too much visualization of a powerless scenario can do more harm than good. For months I came home from work and laid flat on the floor or stretched out in a bath, counting my breaths in and out, in and out, in and out. I thought if I did it more it might work at all, that that was the practice, that was the way.
Since I was a 4-year-old who locked myself in my room and practiced reading out loud before I would sit down even with my own family and do so together (and truly not because they would have been anything but supportive), I have prepared for any stressful situations or difficult conversations by running lines in my head, considering different courses and talking points. This was a great skill when I was a press secretary and even as a manager of a large team. I am a solid extemporaneous speaker but I think it is wise to plan ahead. It turns out to be extremely unhealthy and counter-productive and probably traumatizing in its own way when a majority of the scenarios you are practicing for are discussions you almost certainly can’t safely have without further jeopardizing your own future. Then it’s just a spiral of one-sided imaginary screaming matches. I hate how much time and energy I spent in this loop.
Maybe if I had gone to therapy for a while I would have better externalized it and broken the pattern — maybe that is the lesson here for me to remember. When you’re fighting that much with someone in your head, and you actually don’t feel like you can speak it out loud to them, you need to find a structured way — not just sympathetic ears — to hold and reshape what you’ll need to do to fix the situation. I felt that toxicity build inside me like a physical weight, worse and worse and worse, right up until the day I had to have it literally surgically excised.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
From everything I’ve read and my doctors said, the most likely cause of my necrotic gallbladder — I was literally dead inside, you guys — is a mix of lousy genetics, stress and unhealthy eating. Basically at some point my body just flat out stopped processing the proteins in animal fat, to the point that it built up and clogged my system so badly that when the surgeons went in for what was supposed to be pretty routine it was anything but. My liver bled during surgery and was infected after. (You do not need a gallbladder but oh boy do you need a liver.) Anyway this probably explains why despite my activity level remaining pretty high overall — we ran a goddamned 8k trail hike a month before I was in the hospital — I hit a total wall of losing weight last year. I just assumed I’d kind of leveled out at a natural point, which was fine, but in retrospect is likely related. Add in the most stressful year of my professional life (and, uh, America), which demonstrably fucks up your body in all kinds of ways we still only sort of understand, and all the drinking and eating that came with trying to find any part of a day pleasurable, and basically I feel lucky it wasn’t worse.
Oh yeah, I also got the goddamned flu twice in the first half of 2018, and learned that if you get sick after being in Mexico, no matter how much it had nothing to do with being in Mexico, everyone at urgent care will assume the two are related. We got our flu shots this year basically the first week they were available, and while I’ve had at least one of my annual sinus infections already (blergh), otherwise I’ve just been slowly working my way through a longer recovery timeline from surgery than expected. The first 80 percent or so of getting better was fast. The last 20 percent has taken about 4 months longer than I wanted. I also feel very very grateful to my new employers who were incredibly patient about delaying my start and how slowly I built my way back to something akin to full stamina.
What was the best thing you bought?
My Electric Lady, a brand new all-electric Hyundai Ioniq. I did it in part to buy my way into the carpool lane for my terrible new commute but it felt like a good clean fresh way to approach the new job feeling like a grownup. Also it drives absurdly well and I am pretty stoked to never get gas again.
Whose behavior merited celebration?
I spent a solid nine or maybe even 12 months between last fall and this summer so depressed and anxious about my daily life, and no small number of people helped hold my hand through it. A heartbreakingly large amount of them were women who knew exactly what I meant because they’ve been through the same shit, too.
My wife takes such good care of me every day but I know this year that required both actual nurse-level care taking but a whole other level of emotional support. She’s an actual unicorn.
Also 2018 was a year that solidified for me that there are two kinds of men: those who can listen in support (and mostly silence) as you detail exactly how awful men are, and
Where did most of your money go?
The very low mileage on my old car will actually cover a good two-thirds of my new lease, but between that and rent and hospital bills (which all things considered were not too bad which is a terrible thing to have to caveat in America today)…
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Janelle Monae making an album (and accompanying film) that was so next-level great and seemed to answer definitively why coming out matters. You simply can’t make the best art of your life when you’re still committing any energy to not being your true self. But when you are, oh wow, what you can do.
What song will always remind you of 2018?
“Pynk,” by Janelle Monae, but also “Django Jane.” A terrible side effect of that longest-week-in-June-ever is that we had like 10th row seats to see Janelle at the Greek smack in the middle of it and I felt so awful that I barely remember the night at all.
Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier.
ii. thinner or fatter? Probably about the same but definitely healthier.
iii. richer or poorer? Probably about the same but with better prospects.
What do you wish you’d done more of?
I have the dumbest adult-ing answer to this because the only thing I really could have done in retrospect to either avoid surgery or at least not be so surprised by it was get timely, annual physicals with regular blood work (hi, welcome to my 40s). I did finally ditch my exceedingly average, generally useless primary care doc and resolve to spend less time at urgent care and more under my new doc’s oversight.
What do you wish you’d done less of?
Last year I said: Be on the goddamned internet. But I’m also aware that finding the right balance between awareness and mindfulness and rest and action is the most pervasive and elusive self-care challenge for literally everyone I know, so I’m trying hard not to give myself a hard time about it.
That sounds good. I’ve read or heard a lot of people specifically talking about their rules of engagement for Twitter or Insta in 2019 and I am trying to ask myself very specifically: why are you doing this right now? I immediately realized that I pick up my phone a lot to sort of duck out of an awkward moment—on TV, in a group—and I’m trying to stop that. Sit with the uncomfortable moment or remove myself from it otherwise.
How did you spend Christmas?
We had a very low-key Christmas but that is in no small part because we went all-in for Thanksgiving — my parents, brother and his family all came here for a week, staying in various combinations at our house and an AirBnB we found in the neighborhood. It was the best, most fun and somehow uncomplicated family visit we’ve all had together in a while. The kids are old enough to be a little more self-contained and we spent most of the week, it feels like, sitting on the back patio just drinking and eating and talking, or wandering our way through various LA and Pasadena parks and gardens.
Because of all that, we stuck close to home this month and didn’t travel. We have spent a lot of the last two weeks in a slow steady pace of seeing friends nearly every day, which has been amazing. It’s been generally warm and beautiful here in LA and I’ve been grateful for all the nesting. And for the ridiculous disco light show of a tree-topper we acquired.
What was your favorite TV program?
New: The finale of The Americans, which I wrote about here. Salt Fat Acid Heat. Élite. Succession. Sharp Objects. Patriot Act.
New to me: The Bold Type. The Good Place, a little late but oh so beloved. A beat belated but Killing Eve to close out the year.
Oldies but Goodies: Never underestimate the allure of old Jeopardy! episodes, especially now that they’re finally showing up on some streaming services.
What was the best book you read?
A book that has haunted me for months because it is so astoundingly great and real is finally about to be released, in January — Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run, which is kind of like Orange Is the New Black by way of Bastard Out of Carolina.
The last book I read in 2018 was actually from last year, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, which I suspect will linger in my mind for quite some time.
I started the year trying to write a memoir and not getting very far at it, but these three books in very different ways all really helped me think about what that might mean (and are each excellent in their own right, and also all excellent follows on social media):
Fast Draft Your Memoir, by Rachael Herron, which is top-notch “get over yourself and just do the damn thing” practical and smart writing advice that I will probably go back to, again, until I actually do what she says.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee, who wrote one of my fave 2017 (but written earlier) novels, Queen of the Night, and also is a powerful essayist. So many of these are still caught in little corners of my mind — I just went back to the chapter about his onetime career as a tarot reader and am probably going to reread the whole thing now. I’m still struggling with the idea of commitment to a full-length memoir but I think this has convinced me to try tackling some specific topics or stories as I would any other essay and go from there.
How to Be Alone, by Lane Moore, broke my heart into a million pieces and then somehow left me feeling confident I can bring more kindness and generosity to my life. Then I remembered that I work somewhere that loves books and took advantage of it to get her on the phone, too. It’s on this list, though, because it helped fundamentally challenge the idea that a memoir has to feel serious and super-structured — which is not to say this is not thoughtful and meaningful, it totally is — but mostly should sound like your-fucking-self, duh.
What was your greatest musical discovery of 2018?
Ahhhh I hate that I don’t have a good answer to this. More new music in 2018. I really miss my old staff’s #newjamz Slack channel where they recommended everything they were in love with.
We saw a few great concerts — Years & Years, Rufus Wainwright sounding improbably but undeniably better than he did a decade ago.
What did you want and get?
A new job that was more different from the old job than I could have anticipated, in mostly good ways. I’ve seen more movies this year than probably the last five years combined. I host a podcast!
To wake up the morning after the election and not be sickened by fear. A Congress that at the very least looks a lot more like actual America. Democrats who ran to the left and won. Living in a state that took as long as it fucking needed to count all the votes. A caucus of Katies.
What did you want and not get?
For the widespread acknowledgement and understanding that CBS is a mess to actually force changes and consequences in the division that I left. That did not happen.
What was your favorite film of this year?
Serious: If Beale Street Could Talk.
Spectacular but still a distant second: A Star is Born.
Simply delightful and criminally underrated: The Spy Who Dumped Me and A Simple Favor.
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 41, and we went back to Two Bunch Palms, the magical splurge desert hot springs spa that in 2017 I chose as the photo to represent last year.
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Not to be too dramatic about it, but — regime change? Though obviously the runners-up are also awful.
What political issue stirred you the most?
Los Angeles is a weird city for local politics — it’s geographically enormous, the political power is weirdly distributed, and the most urgent civic issues feel giant and unsolvable. But none of that is fully true or a good excuse especially after living here for nearly 15 years, and in 2019 I am committing to spending more of my time and energy and money on local efforts. In particular I want to get into a better pace of monthly volunteer work, both for community orgs and for voter education/activism.
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Every Republican who worked to make it harder for people to vote. I mean there’s a long list beyond that but it’s such an insult to injury on top of all the other grossness.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
I probably invested too much time (and some serious money) in the fervent hope that dressing like a boss bitch would keep me safe and happy and at the very least powerful at work. It felt less some days like a fun experiment in corporate drag and more a suit of armor that still left too much exposed. A weird side effect of the surgery is that I still can’t comfortably wear most bras with underwires, which in and of itself has changed a lot about how I choose outfits and forcing myself to be more comfortable again with a kind of mid-casual style.
What kept you sane?
Knowing the fighters out there kept on fighting, and trying to remember that even when we couldn’t or didn’t make it out into the streets that other people would. So many individuals and organizations spoke loudly and boldly to insist that trans lives matter, which really fucking matters because this escalated level of institutional violence that is being enacted and proposed is abhorrent.
Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I had a conversation with a colleague recently in which he asked who I would be most disappointed to learn was actually a terrible man, and I argued with him about it for a while (argued? He might say discussed) because frankly almost every time a man (or woman) whose creativity has moved me in some way and turned out to be a trash person is a real tragic disappointment. But in the days since that too-serious-for-a-work-party conversation, I’ve found myself again and again thinking, oh, him, he’s one I’d be real disappointed to lose, about all kinds of different people. So I guess I’m still capable of being inspired and bracing myself to be let down. The only solid answer I felt okay speaking aloud here was Barack Obama, because it seems unlikely at this point that a man so scrutinized and hated could have any awful secrets that went unexposed so long.
Who did you miss?
What a year to not have Michael Hastings around.
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.
This, from 2017, bears repeating: Just because it could have been worse doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be better.
I was reminded recently by a friend of something I said to her a long time ago, and I didn’t really remember having said so, but it sounds like something I would say and meant a lot to her then and it came back to my life at a moment when I really needed it: Your creativity is a renewable resource.
Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Obviously: Let the vagina have a monologue.
Runner up: Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.
What’s one photo that sums up your year?