My Better Half’s Best of Everything in 2012

Editor’s note: My husband Jimmy wrote this post about his favorite things of 2012. Check out his dormant blog about North Carolina here. Check out his other dormant blog (about sports) here. Further note: Jimmy wrote this editor’s note. I’m much too kind to call his blogs “dormant.”

When Megan told me she was writing a blog post about her favorite things of 2012, I got excited.

Then I got a little mad — inveterately ranking pop culture, events, sensations and foods is my thing, dammit! How could I let her beat me to the punch?

Now that I’ve gathered myself (and digested her excellent list), I’m making one of my own, modeled on her best-of-everything-all-in-one-place approach.

1.) The most 2012 thing I engaged with in 2012: “We Are Young,” by fun. “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” will be the first songs uncovered by future pop historians excavating 2012. But “We Are Young” won’t be far behind. I don’t love this song — it has a perfect chorus and awful everything else — but it’s the indelible 2012 soundtrack for me.

The steep streets of Riomaggiore.

The steep streets of Riomaggiore.

Megan and I spent the last half of May traveling in France and Italy. We spent three days in Cinque Terre, a collection of cliffside villages on Italy’s Ligurian coast. After debarking from the train in Riomaggiore and severing ourselves from some Taiwanese tourists who took a liking to Megan, we started a long climb up a 50ish-degree incline toward the Locanda del Sol, our hill-topping hotel. As we trudged up the street, the massive chorus of “We Are Young” poured out of every open shop we passed. It’s become my Italy song, recalling of the exhilaration and disorientation of being so far from home. It’s a reminder that, on your own continent or a foreign one, this is a world of endless potential.

2.) The vegetable of 2012: Okra. I know what you’re thinking: haven’t we seen enough year-end lists where an inescapable pop song and the meat of the vegetable world occupy the top two spots?

The Mighty Okra!

2012 opened with Megan and I locked in a fierce weight-loss competition. Veganism was the backbone of her strategy and, while I still dig on flesh, I adopted some veg-head ways. Nothing has stuck like my newfound love of the mighty okra. Growing up in the South, I’d always assumed okra came naturally in two varieties — fried and pickled. I imagined them dripping brine on the vine or, as ripeness approached, shedding their green skin for a mature, crunchy, golden brown one.

How wrong I was. Fleshy, gooey and mildly peppery, okra can be the heart of a curry, stand alone as an afternoon snack or thicken a soup or chili, giving it that most treasured quality: heartiness.

3.) Life coach of 2012: Louis CK. I don’t believe in life coaches. Anyone who claims to have divined the secrets of a happy existence would know better than to sell them. But if I did subscribe to the value of gurus, Louis CK would be mine.

Louis’ comedy goes beyond drawing laughs. Sometimes he’s more bewildering than amusing. But on his television show and in his standup, Louis unpacks a worldview that simultaneously embraces the wonder and horror of the world, and the awful risk that comes with love. Louis makes me feel OK about my worst thoughts and reinforces my decisions not to act on them.

Here’s Louis, on the ill-gotten blessings of whiteness:

4.) Album of 2012: _______. In a year when several of my favorite artists (Kathleen Edwards, the Avett Brothers, Justin Townes Earle and Bob Dylan, to name four) put out new albums, I didn’t really connect with any new music. My favorite 2012 album was probably the relentless “Celebration Rock,” by Japandroids, but I doubt it will linger with me like Paul Simon’s “So Beautiful or So What” (2011) or Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” have. Bring on 2013.

Still, this is an unstoppable ass-kicker of a song:

5.) Preferred viewing experience of 2012: Television. Television fully overtook movies as my go-to source of visual pop culture in 2012. Of the stuff I watched in 2012, I’d rate seasons 2-4.5 of “Breaking Bad,” two seasons each of “Luther,” “Homeland” and “Louie,” and the debut season of “Girls” ahead of any movie I saw.

6.) Technology of 2012: Apple TV. Number five on this list is absolutely a result of number six. Last Christmas, we got an Apple TV and ditched cable. After some low-level hackery, Apple’s little black box became our house’s music and entertainment hub. Other than (sorely missed) live sports, we still get everything we would have gotten from Time Warner Cable, at a teenintesy fraction of the cost.

7.) Experience of 2012: Traveling. We were blessed to visit a lot of places this year: Paris, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, New York and Aruba. Thanks to some timely standby flying and the generosity of family, we were able to travel farther and more frequently than I ever thought I would. We’ll most likely come back to earth (and Fuquay-Varina) in 2013, but I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the world.

8.) Experience of 2012 (Part Two): Writing. In May, I snuck up to Washington, D.C., to see John Irving read at a synagogue. Irving wrote three of my five favorite novels (“A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp”), and he’s been my idol since high school.

John Irving reads at 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

John Irving reads at 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

I read those novels around the same time I began to think of myself as a writer. My parents and several teachers in high school saw talent in me and nurtured it, and I went to college in 1998 wholly expecting to build a life around writing. During my college years, though, my confidence crashed and never really returned. As a newspaper reporter, editor and PR man, I wrote tens of thousands of words for work, but I could never overcome the crushing doubt that descended whenever I tried to write for myself. I came to resent the people who’d supported my early writing dreams, blaming them for the burden of failure I carried.

Listening to Irving read from his new novel in May, I felt a mix of satisfaction and sadness — satisfaction at finally seeing him in the flesh and sadness at the gulf between where I was at 31 and where I’d imagined being. I didn’t know then that, thanks largely to Megan’s encouragement and Jill McCorkle’s instruction, I’d finally break my 15-year case of writer’s block in 2012. I don’t flatter myself with the idea that, after finishing two short stories, I have a lifetime of publications ahead. That doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad to finally try.

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8 thoughts on “My Better Half’s Best of Everything in 2012

  1. This list and Megan’s are now both on my list of favorite lists from 2012! Now, is that meta of me or do I still not understand what that terms means?… Well, regardless, wonderful posts! Makes a body happy to know you. Happy New Year, Roberts-Ryals family!

  2. My favorites for 2012–music-wise, it’ll always be the year I got into the Avetts and JTE. When people ask me to describe the Avetts, I’ll say, “they sound like North Carolina.” With JTE–I’ll say, “a little bit Bruce, a little bit Cash, and a little bit Buddy Holly, while completely original.” I guess my favorite new music is just best described as “genre undefinable.” Also, of course, I loved the new Andrew Bird, as well as seeing him live (again)–he’s another genre-bender, too.

    For movies, the only great one I’ve seen thus far is Argo, a real tour de force from Affleck.

    In TV, season 5 of Mad Men rocked hard, and 2012 will also mark the year that I binge watched Breaking Bad, as it supplanted Mad Men as my fave television fare.

    In food, I loved the following restaurants: Watts Grocery, Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, Parker and Otis, G2B Gastropub, and Geer St Garden, all in Durham, as well as discovering the Chirba Chirba food truck (dumplings galore).

    In drink, my continued love affair with local craft brew continued with Fullsteam, Triangle, Mystery,k Big Boss, and Natty Greene’s topping my list, but my new discovery of small-batch bourbon beats them all. I love every one I’ve tried, which includes Bulleit, Knob Creek, and Woodford Reserve.

    In books, I didn’t read much after last winter, and I was binging on books about the Boston Celtics. The one that Magic and Larry legend put out together was quite good, as well as one on the relationship between Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. The best book I read, though, was probably Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball, a veritable bible of the pro game.

    In travel, I enjoyed my first time at Wrightsville Beach, kayaking and standup paddleboarding, as well as my first whitewather rafting trip on the Nantahala near Bryson City.

    Basically, I’ll remember 2012 as the year I realized how completely freaking spoiled we are in North Carolina, with great music, food, drink, beaches, and mountains, and that the Triangle is so central to it all.

  3. Brian —

    I would have enjoyed your 2012. Two bourbons you should check out: Larceny (which has just started showing up in ABC Stores around here and is excellent) and Eagle Rare, which is fast becoming my favorite.

    2012 was the year of “Breaking Bad” for us, too — we started watching it last fall and finished in time to catch up for the first half of season five. After binging on it early in the year, I had a hard time getting up for “Mad Men.” As well-made as that show is, the stakes just felt so low after expecting most of the cast of “Breaking Bad” to die on a weekly basis. Saul Goodman remains my favorite character on television.

    Will 2013 be the year we destroy an Indian buffet again?

  4. I think I missed where you talked about your family as one of your favorite things for 2012. Where can I find it???? Seriously, I enjoyed reading this. Okra? Good choice!!!

  5. Jimmy, I didn’t see this until today! (WordPress failed to notify me, arrrrr.)
    First off, YES.
    Second off, E-Hows Favorite Things of 2012 (in brief):
    1. Bicycling. I hadn’t really ridden a bike since I was six and my family moved from the paved suburbs of Columbus to the gravel back-country of Lancaster, Ohio. Now it’s how I get around. And apart from lacking all-weather capability and sufficient grocery capacity (and making me begrudge hills a more-than-usual amount) biking is awesome. You get the wind, the sights and sounds and smells, all these things you miss in a car. Dodging pedestrians and street cats is downright entertaining and getting anywhere is automatic exercise. It’s win-win.
    2. English. Lots of people in the world speak it. They put my monolingual ass to shame– and I’m very grateful for it. Also, I’ve recently discovered the OED’s Historical Thesaurus. And it is amazing.
    3.Tahini and Nutella. Prior to 2012, my nut butter/nut spread repertoire was not a repertoire, it was just peanut butter. Thankfully, no longer. Nutella is pure guilty pleasure (with bananas, on toast), but Tahini is actually good for you– packed with nutrients, anyway. Step one, make tahina from it. Step two, add to EVERYTHING.
    4. Video Chats. Keeping in touch with loved ones afar, giving yourself a mustache on Google Hangout– nuff said.
    5. Project Free TV. I don’t know how it works. I’m not entirely sure it’s legal. But Phillip and I stream all of our go-to TV shows with it. (Esp. now that Netflix and Hulu mislike our international IP address…) Downton, Sherlock, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, The Newsroom, Game of Thrones– all clicks away.
    6. DIY. Okay, I’m not actually very good at DIY– and I’ve never once successfully recreated anything I’ve seen on pinterest. But 2012 was a DIY year for Phillip and me. Between house fixing-upping (I caulked a shower, motherf***ers!), furniture repair (see above re: pinterest DIY failure), makeshift car maintenance (duct tape and garbage bags and twist ties), Israeli plumbing (it’s been mostly hope and prayers, that one), and some really atrocious cooking methods using a hotplate and a toaster oven (I stretched twisted strands of aluminum foil across a casserole pan to make a roasting rack), we did more “homemade” in 2012 than any other year. (It was really more “half-assed” than “homemade” but hey.) We made so many things in the kitchen from scratch that I’d normally buy ready-made (cocoa mix, salad dressing, granola bars). Today, I’m making Phillip some homemade toaster (oven) strudels. And yeah, that’s only because you can’t actually get any of those items in Israel any other way, but it’s been sort of fun. It feels good to know I -can- do those things, even if I go right back to buying them at the store anyway.
    7. The Kindle. I admit, I resisted at first. I love books. I love bookshelves. I love the smell and feel and weight of books. I like writing in them. I like whacking Phillip over the head with them. But he bought me a Kindle for Christmas 2011 and I haven’t looked back since. 2012 was undoubtedly the Year of the E-book for me. I read nonstop. I could get books from the library, totally free, in seconds. I read on buses and trains and planes. I listened to audiobooks with it in the car. My kindle cover is embarrassingly dirty, because I took it everywhere. If I had to choose between giving up my kindle and giving up a kidney? Enjoy the kidney. I don’t need it.

    My 2013 Resolution? To quit reading so damn much. I will put down the Kindle. I will. After the next chapter. I promise.

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