I know practically nothing about abstract painting, but I find myself thinking pretty often about Agnes Martin, a late titan of the field.
When collectors and gallerists discovered Martin’s work in the late 1950s and found it irresistible, she became a reluctant socialite in the New York art scene. She didn’t stay long though, as less than a decade after achieving critical acclaim, she retreated from the art world and lived the rest of her days as a recluse.
Legend has it that Martin went 50 years without reading a newspaper, a degree of being Logged Off that I cannot help but admire.
Martin lived with schizophrenia, yet was also something of a Taoist Zen master. That cocktail of personality lends well to unplugging into the desert plains for decades, I suppose.
“The truth is that I have lived on an even keel. I don’t go down, and I don’t go up,” Martin said in one of the last interviews before her death in 2004.
“I believe in living above the line. Above the line is happiness and love, you know. Below the line is all sadness and destruction and unhappiness. And I don’t go down below the line for anything.”
That last bit is almost scriptural to me. Martin had a good, but hard life, and she responded to it definitively: “I don’t go down below the line for anything.”
Call it PMA, naive optimism, whatever. I’m with Agnes. I believe in living above the line.
That said, I think I spent much of 2020 well below the line, considering we were living in hell. But 2021 was, despite the circumstances, a pretty good year.
From collecting boarding passes, to ordering drinks at happy hour with friends, to throwing a party for my 30th, to pinning on a number and racing bikes again, I got reminded of what it’s like to live above the line in 2021. Happiness and love. It felt good. Here’s to more of that in 2022.
This is my fifth year putting together a list of my favorite things I read, watched, and listened to all year (here’s 2020’s list). I usually include a list of the things I wrote that I’m most proud of, but that’s getting its own second post this year because this ran long and dear reader, I know you’ve got stuff to do.
Let’s get to it. Here’s what I loved in 2021:
Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
“FANTASY HEIST WITH A CAPTIVATING, COMPLEX SET OF CHARACTERS” is pretty much everything I’ll ever ask for in a book. Bardugo is so damn good at balancing pushing the story along and feathering the brakes for backstory.
Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo by Sam Schube
Getting to see the humanity of the Jackass crew in recent years has been a pleasantly surprising twist in their story. Everything Knoxville does is knee-slapping funny and he really seems like a decent guy, just one who happens to have a career that involves getting hit in the beans pretty regularly.
Keanu Reeves Knows the Secrets of the Universe by Ryan D’Agostino
Much like Martin, Keanu really just seems to get it.
Star Wars animated series
I think I watched every single animated Star Wars series this year — Rebels, The Bad Batch, Resistance, all of it. Post-original trilogy, Star Wars is at its best when it throws out the highfalutin ideas and focuses on being fun. The animated series, particularly The Clone Wars, lean into that in a major way.
Zach Dowdy’s YouTube channel
Skateboarding likes to fancy itself a wide-open, accepting subculture, one where anyone can pull up at their local park and receive only fist bumps and no judgement. Which is somewhat true, but it’s also a gatekeep-y and increasingly commercialized scene, especially online.
Dowdy’s approach, I think, sets the example for how we should talk about, watch and embrace skateboarding, with absolutely no nastiness or gross brand worship. The dude is also an extremely talented DIY-spot handyman and a menace on transition.
Dowdy also inspired me to make my own self-filmed skate video part (which, and don’t tell anyone I’m telling you this, but you can expect to see in the January edition of this newsletter).
Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!’s Gone Are The Good Days
These Parisian pop-punk princes emerged from a 5-year hiatus and casually dropped a DOOZY of an album.
(Re)Born In The USA by Roger Bennett
I’ve been listening to Rog and Davo talk about footy for so many years on Men In Blazers that they kind of feel like my long-lost English uncles.
Rog’s memoir about coming of age in Liverpool while wanting only to escape to America was funny, heartwarming and a bit familiar. Reading about how he achieved his dreams makes me want to set out to find my America.
Nurture by Porter Robinson
I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this album which I can’t quite articulate. It’s alluring and I love it.
The CXHAIRS Bulletin
Zach Schuster and Bill Schieken do such a kick-ass job covering cyclocross, a kick-ass sport that deserves that level of coverage. It was especially cool to see them report on an event, Go Cross in Roanoke, that I got to race.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
The podcast version of TAR was on my 2018 list and the book is even better. I am also delighted, as Green has pointed out, that this book which rates facets of the human-centered planet on a 5-star scale, could just as easily been titled The Fault In Our Stars.
Sunrise Skater Kids
Jarrod Alonge and Sunrise Skater Kids are a reminder that just because something’s a parody, doesn’t mean it can’t be ridiculously good. The harmonies at the end of First World Tragedy are frighteningly good, too.
Charlie Warzel’s Galaxy Brain
Warzel’s ability to not only have level-headed commentary about the fraught relationship between the internet and culture, but also make it fun and engaging is remarkable. He’s a true talent.
We Are Not Ready sat with me all year, and if you’ve ever felt frustrated by the ways social media grinds down nuance, I heartily recommend The internet is flat.
Jenkem: Discussing Skateboarding with Filmmaker Werner Herzog
“I’m puzzled because I’m not familiar with the scene of skateboarding. At the same time I had the feeling, yes, that’s kind of my people.” WELCOME, WERNER.
And of course, the greatest pizza boys of all time.
That’s it for now. Like I said, I’ll crank up the self-promotion and have another post out soon about my favorite things that I made last year.
I’m coming up on a year of writing this silly little newsletter of mine, and I have to say it’s been a lot of fun. If you’ve been along for the ride and made it this far into this long-ass story, thank you.