Is This Still On?
On my top 10 best (and worst) of 2021
When I launched this newsletter last year, I was searching for my voice. I wanted to create a space where I could talk my shit every month, freely and unflinchingly, about the things I care for most in the world. But the truth is, shortly after my first dispatch in July 2021, my world shifted and I walked into the most disorienting time of my life.
A cross-country homecoming + the start of a new job collided with an insufferable heartbreak when my partner of nearly two years and I split. We were best friends. Lovers. Thought partners. A New York love story. It was the most beautiful bond I’ve ever experienced. The type of love that inspires you to become a better person. It was just about everything I had been missing and always longed for. And in times as fraught as these? It was a love that I clung to, for better or worse.
My departure from NYC and the subsequent breakup forced me to turn inward. To fight for me and give myself the care and commitment I had been pouring into my relationship. Not having my partner to support me on this new journey ripped open some poorly bandaged wounds from as far back as childhood. I felt too devastated by the pain and too strained by my day job to show up for this project the way I originally intended to. I’ve been navigating anxiety, depression, intense PMDD, pandemic grief, family drama, and then some. All somewhat publicly. Needless to say, coming back to this newsletter was complicated. But I decided that the only way to return is to be fearless. To embrace my vulnerability and acknowledge that at this moment, I am fragile. I am tired of being strong. I am hurting. I need grace.
2021 was riddled with grief. We’ve all shared in this constant state of disorientation and confusion. Although I’ve been able to provide a pretty kickass setup for myself, I can’t help but feel nervous about whether this newfound stability is as fleeting as everything else in life. I’m side-eyeing 2022, BUT I’m remaining thankful for the light of a new year. Between therapy, my friends and fortifying my work/life boundaries, I’m recommitted to every aspect of my craft. Thank you to every single person who has kept their subscription and been patient with me as I continue to adjust. We’re all going through it, but I don’t take anything for granted and I am deeply thankful for all the support.
Now that there’s a safe distance between now and then, here’s my top 10 (best and worst) of 2021:
The Nap Ministry
Part of my motivation for leaving NYC and coming back South was to escape the epicenter of America’s toxic work culture. The Nap Ministry has been the perfect guide through this journey toward rest. Founded by Tricia Hersey as a counter to the violence of capitalism and grind culture, the organization’s mission is to empower Black folks through the restorative power of naps. Even if the mission is aspirational (because we all still need to pay these damn bills), I do my best to find ease each day and I affirm that rest is my resistance. Rest is my revolution.
Before I weigh in on a piece of pop culture, I try to spend some time engaging so that I can have an informed critical opinion. Watching Them was the first and only time I’ve ever regretted this approach to criticism. Created by Little Marvin and executive produced by Lena Waithe (who I can’t stand), Them is a 10 episode horror anthology that follows a Black family’s migration from North Carolina to Los Angeles in 1953. The cast is brilliant but the characters are tortured, taunted, and degraded to no end. I’m still thinking works like these, but the main idea is this: Making a horror series about racism is redundant, racism is a waking nightmare all by itself. In a poignant review for Vulture, critic Angelica Jade Bastién described the series as “morally bankrupt” and “one of the most anti-Black pieces of pop culture I’ve seen in the last few years, one that left me spent after the grueling process of watching its virulent imagery.” Violence against the Black psyche is something I find wholly intolerable. Needless to say, the show was deeply disturbing, unoriginal and a prime example of how representation alone will NOT equal Black liberation.
Carefree Black Girls
Film and culture critic Zeba Blay is one of my favorite writers of all time, someone whose work has been absolutely transformative for me. Her debut book, Carefree Black Girls is a collection of essays that celebrate Black women in popular culture. Blay has written openly about the power of vulnerability, confronting mental health, and what it means to be a Black woman critic writing primarily on the internet. Her work has helped me find the courage to not only be fearless but also hold space for the parts that feel stagnant and wounded. She has taught me that the most important quality a writer can have is honesty. I stan her.
The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse
After a stellar debut at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, The Dirty South made its way home to Houston. The show is a tribute to 100 years of creativity in the Black American South. There aren’t enough ways to express why this show means so much to me, but if you don’t know Valerie Cassel Oliver, get familiar. She’s an art-historical giant, a champion, my North Star. Read my full review of the exhibition for Rice Design Alliance publication CITE here.
I attended Astroworld Festival last November for work. It was my first music festival in over five years and I was thrilled to finally experience one of Houston’s biggest events. I’ve been a fan of Travis Scott for years and he’s known to have an intense crowd, so naturally, I was very anxious. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened that night. Pinned up pandemic tension + and a poorly planned event collided to create an unprecedented tragedy that resulted in thousands of traumatized people, 10 deaths, global tension around live performances, and a stained career for Scott.
Thankfully, I managed to get home safely albeit shaken up by my own panicked experience of escaping a compressed crowd. Hours after leaving the grounds, I was devastated by the news. I made all possible efforts to better understand how something like this could happen and I’m still sorting out how I feel about Travis. It’s harrowing to know that while I was *trying* to have fun, so many people were suffocating and screaming for their lives.
Rest in eternal peace to Rodolfo Angel Pena, 23, Madison Alexis Dubiski, 23, Franco Cesar Patino, 21, Jacob E. Jurine, 20, John W. Hilgert, 14, Axel Beltsasar Acosta Avila, 21, Brianna Rodriguez, 16, Bharti Shahani, 22, Mirza Danish Baig, 27 and 9-year-old Ezra Blount.
If Orange Was A Place - Tems
Tems is one to watch. Her voice. Her style. Her soul. This 5-track EP held me together last fall. Every single song makes you feel and they’re all fun to sing/dance to. Also, peep this 20-min Tiny Desk performance. You’re welcome.
Sweet People Art Everywhere - Alice Walker
This special children’s book chose me during a post-breakup period of hopelessness. Alice Walker’s Sweet People Are Everywhere has been a perfect companion on the journey to healing my inner child. I read it to myself several times a week and it’s an important reminder that, even though things are dark right now, there’s so much love in the world.
DOUBLEDUTCH Vol. 2
My first mix in over a year features some of my favorite songs of 2021. I recorded it hours before PHYSICAL THERAPY, my monthly DJ residency + open format dance party that I started with my friend Morgan on Juneteenth. The mix racked up over 1000 plays in under a month. PURRRRR.
Instagram is way too clout-driven and anxiety-ridden, so scrolling the funnies on TikTok has been a huge refuge for me. It’ll never replace Vine, but it’s close enough.
The absolute best part of 2021 was moving back to Houston. After seven years of living in three cities across three states, I’ve returned home on a quest to heal. To confront all the things I ran from when I left the city at 18. And while creating a safe and stable environment for myself hasn’t been easy, it’s been beyond worth it. Being in the South reminds me that I can always take my time. I’m so fucking happy to be back.
Wishing you all a safe and glorious return back to yourselves. Here’s to 2022.