Eleven years ago, in Austin, TX, on New Year’s Eve, Lindsy, Daniel, and I initiated, over cigars, a tradition of-sorts in the backyard of a kind woman’s home. I don’t remember which of us started it. As 2002 slid into 2003, one of us asked everyone huddled in the cold what their favorite five moments of the previous year had been. A moment could be one glorious week in which everything seemed to go well, or it could be—as it was for one guy—the exact three seconds that he signed his name on the title for his first new car.
We’ve kept it up, this quiet reminder that—amidst the gloom and anxiety and heartache of any given year—good things have happened to us. So, here are mine.
#1: My first Phish shows since Summer 2000.
In 1996, I heard my first Phish album. By the end of that year, I was trading concert tapes with various woolly-headed boys, girls, and middle-agers around the country, using online bulletin boards and AOL exchanges as trading posts. Who knows why I got hooked? Pop-culture love is a ravenous, irrational thing. In July 1997, I saw the band for the first time, in two one-two punch knockouts in Dallas and Austin. I did the same thing over the next two summers, and then saw three glorious shows—one outside of Nashville, and two in Atlanta. And then I quit. I could say life intervened, and that the Vermont band rarely played near enough to Jackson, MS, for me to catch them, and that’s all true. Still, I could have tried, and just didn’t. Well, this year, I moved to Athens, GA, an hour northeast of Atlanta, which is the prime southern stomping ground for Phish. It almost always plays multiple shows in the city, and that was true this July. I wrote about that first show but it was the second that slew me where I stood. I had lawn seats, so danced in the grass as a torrential downpour drenched us all. My iPod got soaked and ruined. My shoes got muddy. Even the people wise enough to bring ponchos got soggy. And it was all worth it. The band, funny even during normal moments, winked at us by playing songs such as “Water in the Sky” and a cover of the Who’s “Drowned.” The quartet was on fire for both shows but night #2 rang our bells. My jotted notes directly after the show: “This stuff is still danceable, but the type of beat is more high-energy, closer to a techno or indie-rock rave than a 1970s P-Funk disco. There wasn’t a lot of downtime or melancholy in either show–both were high-voltage, full-throttle all the way, which has pluses and minuses. Alpharetta show #2, which I’m still processing in my notes, might be the best of the 11 shows I’ve been to, torrential rain and all. There was more new stuff, including an astonishing cover of the Apples in Stereo’s “Energy,” in this 2nd show. I’m hoping “Energy” becomes a cover staple, as with “Rock and Roll” (Velvet Underground) and “Ya Mar” (The Mustangs). They really made it their own, and I like the original a ton. So, Phish is growing, even if this summer’s setlists seem to harken back to the old days.” Wonderful show, even if I killed my iPod.
#2: I got a new job, and moved to Athens, GA.
I knew I had rocked the phone interview and, folks, I rarely have that much self-confidence. But I knew. So, when the University of Georgia Press asked me to fly down to Athens for an on-site visit, I knew it was going. I freshened up my best suit, and went. It was an all-day interview, in which I was grilled by every department on staff, and I knew I rocked that, too. I’d done my research, I knew the press well, I liked the press a ton, and I knew—again with this self-confidence—that I was good at what I do, and that I could add to UGA. I was right, and so I moved. It’s been the best decision I’ve made in years and, though I miss my Jackson friends, I don’t regret the move for one tiny bit.
#3: I wrote a novella.
I’ve said my piece on this. I’ll only add that, in general, my writing feels fueled and intentional this year, as if I’ve finally found my voice after 20 years of searching, and that I’m also finally figuring out what that voice must sing about.
#4: I dressed up as a hobbit for a downtown parade.
Athens loves its downtown parades and festivals. There’s Twilight, the all-day (and night) set of bicycle races and beer-drinking on the sidelines/sidewalks. There’s AthFest in June, a 3-day frenzy of bands, DJ sets, and raucous music. And, sure, those were fantastic. But the Wild Rumpus is something else entirely. Twilight, AthFest, and all the rest are institutions, with official sponsors, announcers, ads, and everything else that comes with being corporate. The Wild Rumpus, the Halloween parade, feels organic and homemade. People dress in elaborate costumes, hundreds of us, and convene slowly to a parking lot next to the Caledonia Lounge. Though the website states the starting time as 7:30pm, this isn’t a sticking point, and revelers are still ambling into the throng at eight o’clock. Someone blows a horn or bangs a gong or something, and the mass surges and throbs down Clayton and makes a big loop down Washington to the 40 Watt, the Trappeze, and various pubs in full celebratory mode. Three days beforehand, a coworker asked if I was going as “Bilbo Biggins,” which seemed such an obvious joke that I wondered why I’d never thought of it. Thrift shops and party outlets awarded me with a plaid vest, a bright yellow jacket, a corncob pipe, fake werewolf ears. Another coworker let me borrow her walking stick. I glued fake fur to my shins and flip-flops. I rolled up my yellow jeans. And there you have it: A hobbit. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a group in years.
#5: I became an uncle.
My brother and his wife became parents two days shy of my birthday, to a beautiful and serious-minded baby boy. Over Thanksgiving, I held the munchkin in my arms, burped him, kissed him, got him to smile, and marveled at the human race’s ability to survive and manifest itself in a world that sometimes seems actively hostile to it.
So, I turn it over to you. What are your moments for 2013? And what’s in store for 2014?