Happy New Year / 2016’s Top 5

It’s time, once again, for the grand tradition begun in 2002, in an Austin, TX, backyard. (See the 2014 and 2015 editions.) 2016 was a difficult year but this summing-up reminds me that there was indeed a lot of joy within it. This year’s version started as a letter written to two of the people who were with me in that backyard, chilly and shivering, listening to fireworks pop, and sharing puffs on a Arturo Fuentes Short Story Cigar. So, I’ve made some edits.

OK, here we go.

#1: A long spring weekend in the north Georgia mountains.
Needing a place to write that was away from my usual distractions, I went up to Clayton and Demorest, Georgia, basically the foothills of the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, in a cheap Days Inn motel room, with a printout of the Workbook manuscript Dan and I had written, I frantically revised by longhand, while occasionally looking out the window at the fog nestling over the mountaintops and getting tangled in the tree branches. I took breaks: to go on a long-planned birdwatching hike at the Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College with accomplished birders who pointed out red-eyed vireos and crows by their calls and colors, even from great distances. Of the 15+ people on the bird walk, I was the youngest by two decades, and I spent a good amount of time being the “nice young man” who helped old ladies when they slipped on the rocks and roots. Then, back to writing. That Saturday night, nursing a bourbon after a long day of cutting-and-pasting and jotting, I turned on the TV, and turned to HBO, which I don’t get at home. A Beyonce music video had just started, and boy it was weird… and long. I checked Twitter to see if anyone could help me figure out what I was seeing, and so got to experience Black Twitter’s hourlong freakout over the premiere of Lemonade. The next morning, more writing, and then I checked out of the hotel, to go on a quick hike on the Warwoman Dell Trail, which ends in a trickling, delicate waterfall into ferns.

#2: Saratoga Springs, NY, 4th of July weekend.
I was there to see three Phish shows with friends but my days were free. I had a rental car, and went every day to a new trail in the Adirondack mountains. This was strenuous and beautiful and with vivid greens and dauntingly clear skies that I breathed in with each step. I took pictures and wrote haiku. I smelled evergreen perfume everywhere I walked, and rambled under tree shadows. I spent an afternoon sauntering around downtown Saratoga Springs–charming, lively–and its beautiful park full of mineral springs and duck ponds. The concerts were almost a anticlimax by comparison.

#3: The moment I hit the SEND button on 6/14/16, officially turning in the full manuscript for Bob Mould’s Workbook. Dan Couch and I have poured a lot into this book, and we ain’t done yet. (Our final revisions are due at the end of this month; publication’s scheduled for Bloomsbury’s Fall 2017 season.) I’ve published a fair bit, and my portfolio of criticism is reasonably robust but sending off our first full manuscript for publication was… well, it was something else.

#4: Andrea Couch & Erik Wofford’s wedding weekend, outside of Austin, TX.
Another April event. Andrea is Daniel’s younger sister, and a dear friend. She’s also friends with many of my high-school friends and acquaintances, so the wedding was essentially a class reunion–but the kind I would actually want to attend. I saw at least ten people who I hadn’t seen in a decade or longer. The outdoor wedding, along the banks of the Rio de Colores, was grand and thoroughly rain-drenched. Andrea and Erik trooped through it, sans umbrellas, and even, during a quick lull in the downpour, shot off fireworks over the river after they’d exchanged rings. But, really, the entire weekend was lovely, not just the wedding day–from my off-the-wall-insane hotel room (a floor-to-ceiling collage of burlesque/pinup photography & poster art) in a genuinely crazy cottage; to hanging out with Dan and his family; to (thank God) genuine Texas barbecue with beef brisket; to a fantastic open-air meal at a restaurant featuring a great punk Cajun band and kids playing everywhere on the playground and their parents sipping beer; to the fusion-skronk-disco stylings of the wedding band (Golden Dawn Arkestra).

#5: I’m moving to Atlanta.
This happened on 30 December: I signed on to rent a house in East Atlanta. I’ve spent the autumn negotiating a promotion that, among other things, allows me to telecommute my job from Atlanta. I like Athens a great deal, and I’ll miss it (though, really, it’s just 75 minutes away from my new home) but I realize that I’m a big-city guy at heart, and I miss the electric pulse and pressure and in-your-faceness of true urban spaces too much. Plus, I really, really love Atlanta–well, except for the traffic, which I’m learning to understand. The fall has been unusually stressful but, now that I know where I will be living, much of the anxiety has melted away. It feels like a weight’s been lifted from my heart, like I can breathe and see clearly again. The house is lovely, in a funky middle-class neighborhood that I like, and it’s all a good fit for me.

Honorable mention (cut & pasted from a letter to a different friend, out in L.A.): “I did attend a Sun Ra Arkestra concert [in February] that blew me away, here in Athens. The band veered from free-jazz atonality to blues ballads to big-band bebop to relatively straightforward swing. Such a nimble band. It all felt of a piece. The trombonist did backflips. The horn section insinuated itself into the audience on two occasions. They all wore sparkly futurist Egyptian garb. It was bizarre, and wonderful. Interestingly, given that Sun Ra was a keyboardist extraordinaire, keyboards played the most minor role–the horns and percussion led the way. Anyway, I’d been wondering where all the cute black and nonwhite women were in Athens–as college towns go, it’s a pretty white place. Well, apparently they come out en masse for space-age ruckus and skronk. Who knew?”

HAPPY 2017! May it be an improvement over 2016 in every way.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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