Personal Report Cards of 2012

By Hazlitt

Births, deaths, epiphanies, new jobs, cockroach infestations, and caring for sick loved ones—members of the Hazlitt team look back on their personal lives and grade what 2012 was worth to them.

| | Image from Christian Marclay's The Clock

Alexandra Molotkow
Grade: C

My dream life was way more interesting than my real life this year. For example, the other night I dreamed I was partying at a hotel with an entire floor devoted to exotic pizzas. In reality I was digesting nachos on a futon.

This was a thoroughly mediocre year. Nothing that good happened and nothing that bad happened and I experienced no strong emotions other than anger. If this year had a facial expression, it would be the expression on someone’s face while they use the Internet. If it had a colour, it would be that greyish blue colour that guys always paint their rooms in.

The most interesting thing to happen in my personal life this year was a mild cockroach infestation. The cockroaches were just babies, but they were alarming nonetheless, because babies grow unless you kill them, which is difficult to do.

The cockroaches made me feel like a stranger in my own apartment. I was afraid to turn the lights on when I got home or go to the bathroom at night. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around my kitchen and sprayed the buggers with cleaning solvent when I saw them. I did not buy Raid for the same reason I have not yet replaced my empty bottle of cleaning solvent.

These offensives failed.

One time I brought a guy over. When I turned on the light in the kitchen, at least six nymphs scurried across the floor. The guy held up my recycling bin while I sprayed Scrubbing Bubbles underneath, then went to bed without me.

We had just come from a party at my boss’s apartment. Even though it was 5am, I called my boss to yell and complain. He said, “Alex, calm down. We’ll deal with it.” That is a good summary of my work-life balance this year.

Eventually, my landlord bought me a can of Raid and sprayed around my stove and refrigerator. The roaches mostly died. From frustration came relief and I felt glad to be alive.

Alexandra Molotkow is Hazlitt’s Senior Editor.

Michael Takasaki
Projected Grade: F-

If you had asked me a year ago to the very day I am typing this what grade I expected the upcoming year would receive, I would have predicted an F-minus, tops. December 19, 2011 was a shitty day. The two creative directors who had brought me on and who had become good friends had very abruptly been fired. Our recently-hired CEO, it seemed, was invoking the right to “MY SANDBOX!” just before Christmas. As soulless as advertising is commonly perceived to be, most agencies have the decency not to fire people that close to the holidays. Ours seemed to have no such qualms.11Indeed, three more people would get the axe before the holidays began.The coming year did not look hopeful.

In due time, I went to work at another agency. And then, in December, another one. Though my work life is much, much happier than it was a year ago, a year that results in three different T-4s is a tough one to grade solely on the basis of work.

Graded on the basis of what I ate, it was a very solid year. Perhaps the single greatest bite of food I had this year was at Mission Chinese Food in New York. It would take too much space here to explain the restaurant and its singular chef, Danny Bowien,22Pete Wells in the New York Times, John Swansburg in New York, and Brett Martin in GQ have all kindly done that for I’ll just tell you the bite: Kung Pao Pastrami. Fatty, spicy, and numbingly tingly with Sichaun peppercorns. My wife and I cleaned the plate.33Later, in Toronto for a benefit for The Stop, Bowien was responsible for my second favourite bite of the year: tea-smoked hog jowl topped with scallop and sea urchin, surrounded by a lap-cheong broth. As is the case every year, there were also sandwiches. From Katz’s in New York, Wilensky’s in Montreal. From Porchetta & Co. in Toronto (many) and Porchetta (one) in Brooklyn. And lots of vegetables. People think I only eat meat, but overall I probably eat more vegetables than meat.44Sorry to have to include that. When you keep a shattered prop salami on your desk, people tend to make assumptions about your vegetable-to-meat consumption ratio.

What started as one of the crappier years of my life turned out, in the end, pretty good. I was tempted to give it an A. In the middle of December, however, a suit I’d ordered arrived in the mail. I’d planned to wear it to my new agency’s Christmas party. After paying $70 in GST to liberate it from the post office and rushing it home, I discovered it is much, much too small. I can’t imagine why.

Actual Grade: A-
Michael Takasaki is a regular contributor to Hazlitt.

Jowita Bydlowska
Grade: B-

B- summarizes this year for me because it feels as if the year was giving it all exactly 72 per cent, using the other 28 per cent to suck.

It started okay. The New Years’ Eve party was well attended and, thankfully, everyone left by 1 am to fuck/ relieve babysitters/ drink somewhere else. Everyone, except for Paul who stayed on with his chocolate beer he had bought for the occasion. He kept saying “That’s it? That’s it?!” He had no one to fuck then and nowhere else to drink; there were no children to go home to. We felt bad but we kicked him out.

In March, I went to Cuba with my mother, and my son. My son was terrified of the obscenely large dolphins. He also got half eaten by mosquitos. One afternoon, he gave an impromptu dance performance by the pool. We filmed it. My mother lost her passport but then she found it.

Around that time, I completed the first draft of yet another novel and started on a massive sci-fi book that will take me forever to write.

I started working with my editor at Doubleday on my book about being drunk. One thing we worked on was curbing my overgenerous usage of the word “fuck” in the text.

My kid turned three. He took off his clothes at his birthday party and ate pasta and hot dogs, naked, with his best friend.

In the summer, I rode my bike to the former Ontario Place, broke in and took pictures of abandoned rides. It started to rain and then it stopped. I rode my bike home, dangerously, standing on pedals like a preteen, in the post-rain heat, Saschienne’s “Grand Cru” blasting in my ears.

August was Nova Scotia: sea salt of whipping wet ocean hair.

I took many pictures of myself.

My meds started working. It turned out there always really was something wrong with me.

I turned a year older and got a tattoo to have something to be happy about that day—even artificially it relieved the pressure of having to be happy because it was my birthday.

October on, things went from A to B to B-.There was a lot of illness around. I quit writing a stupid advice column. I obsessed over heartbreaking news. I joined Instagram and started taking pictures of things I was experiencing before I actually got to experience them. I deleted Instagram.

Jowita Bydlowska is a regular contributor to Hazlitt. Her first book, Drunk Mom, is being published by Doubleday this spring.

Jason McBride
Grade: First half of the year, D/ Second half of the year, A+

I spent a lot of 2012 in, or very close, to bed—and I wasn’t alone. That sounds more salacious than I intend. Let me clarify. My wife, Liz, and I bought our bed a couple years ago. A woman in her 60s sold it to us on Craigslist. It was, is, a beautiful thing, sturdy and, I think, Mission-inspired. I can’t remember what we paid for it, but I do recall that the woman sold it to us for very little because she was in the midst of a divorce and hastily purging her apartment of certain, overly resonant, personal effects. Liz and I were then just engaged and we worried, for a few seconds, about the potential curse of buying such a piece of furniture from someone moving, relationship-wise, in the opposite direction.

No such curse has materialized, thankfully. But in the last twelve months that queen–the bed, I mean–has taken on enormous significance. In January, we conceived our first child there. In September, he was born there. (We had every intention of going to the hospital, but Jack arrived in a hurry–Liz’s labour lasted just over an hour. A frightening, fraught miracle that we later learned is termed precipitous birth.)

In between those two moments, our bed was occupied by my dearest friend, the writer Derek McCormack. He had radical, unbelievably invasive, cancer surgery in the late winter and, after several weeks in hospital, spent two months with us recovering. It was a terrible, painful, uncertain period. But Derek’s courage and resolve were formidable, even as he came to loathe the bed to which he was temporarily confined. (For one thing, thanks to an ill-advised box spring, the bed was too high off the floor and he had to carefully step on an ottoman just to get in.) Liz’s fortitude too was inspiring, even as she, three months pregnant, slept on a futon in our cramped office, and continued to do the laundry that multiplied like mushrooms.

Hanging above the bed is a simple artwork that my brother-in-law made many years ago–a framed poster emblazoned, in red type, with the title of the Pet Shop Boys song, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Over the year, as that sentence took on various, contradictory, meanings, we wondered this many times. Watching Derek hold Jack the day after he was born, all of us wiping away tears, we still didn’t know the answer. But we knew that we were all extraordinarily grateful to be there asking the question.

Jason McBride is a regular contributor to Hazlitt.

Britt Harvey
Grade: B

I’d give this year a solid B. Nothing to sniff at but not something your mom would put on the fridge either.

I got a job—that was good. Before that I was working at a restaurant and had to wear knee socks and a plaid skirt in a decidedly un-ironic, quite literal interpretation of some dude’s schoolgirl fantasy. One customer told me her smoothie wasn’t smooth enough, another asked me to fill her milk creamer with three parts skim, half fat and full fat milk and I understood why there’s such a thing as gun control.

I discovered that anyways is not a word. (This, after two years of journalism school.)

Eating cheese until you vomit is not cool. It will not make you friends and you will feel worse than the time you fell asleep face down in the McDonald’s parking lot that one time. In Winnipeg. In winter.

I moved to Toronto and liked it, despite the fact that the city sometimes smells like horse manure and no one ever offers to carry your shit in Ikea. Even when you’ve got your “help me” face on and break a lamp in the parking lot. You’re on your own, kid.

I realized that I never want to use the word juxtaposition ever again.

My mom joined Facebook and Twitter and I decided I was okay with it, until she told me I looked like a “less attractive” version of Justin Bieber. I have now refused to sync her iTunes account.

I transitioned from fantasizing about Ryan Gosling to fantasizing about meaningful conversation-having and sandwich-eating with Louis C.K. I’m taking this as a sign of spiritual growth.

My mom almost died when she tripped and fell on a glass wine bottle that cut an inch-wide hole in her throat. My brother kept her alive by holding a towel to her neck and screaming at her to “stay the fuck awake,” as her eyes flitted back and forth. My sister called me from the hospital while I was working a wedding, the din of the party around me barely audible. When my mom was in the clear we joked that in the hospital she looked like a bloated Richard Simmons.

I forgave the Bieber joke.

In short, everything you could ever want you probably have already and good relationships are like that really delicious cheeseburger: simple, tender, and effortless.

Britt Harvey is an Assistant Editor at Hazlitt.

Emily Keeler
Grade: A+

My memory is pretty short, but that’s okay because so was this past year. I spent it working on what I’ve begun to consider my real life. Here are two highs and a low from 2012:

1. Little Brother Magazine
For the last half of 2011 and the first half of this year, I was writing and working mostly for cool American stuff, like The Millions and The New Inquiry. I still love those publications, but I was feeling really alienated from the place where I actually live, which is Toronto. There was a little bit of shame involved, too, given that I legitimately think there is a lot of totally rad stuff right here—even if we don’t have the scale or particular go-get-em-tiger (I mean, that’s the whole deal with American Exceptionalism slash entitlement, right?) attitude of the people with whom we share that long and famously undefended squiggle on the map. So I wanted to do something that was here, where I am, and that both reflected and spoke to what it means to live here. And I did it, with a lot of help and encouragement. Launching the magazine in August was an unbelievable high point in this year, but it also will probably remain a high point in my life. Here were so many people, ready and willing to see this one thing that could be done here in my city, a whole community that had always already been here. How lucky I was that I could find them this way.

2. I got an iPhone
I had a landline until like, 2008. Not because I didn’t want a cell phone, although it still makes me a little uneasy to pretty much always be reachable. And I didn’t get a smart phone until this year, even though I’m pretty much addicted to the internet, because I knew that once I had one I’d get so used to the digital appendage that I’d be almost immediately unable to imagine life without one. Which pretty much brings us up to date. But, I will say this: before I got the smart phone, I would feel an anxiety building in me if I chose to sit and a read a book in the park. Afterward I was much less so, even if I didn’t actually pause my reading to check my email. Just knowing it was within my immediate power was enough to quiet the urge.

3. I very nearly started crying in a Tim Hortons
I was at a friend’s book launch, and the party was moving to a whole other locale, and another pal and I wanted to pick ourselves up with a little caffeine, and we were talking about the tragic fact of opportunity cost. I am a fundamentally greedy person: I want to do, see, read, and eat it all. So I said yes to a lot of wonderful things this year, and I opened my door almost anytime opportunity knocked. I learned that once you get a bit of a reputation for being a somewhat gracious opportunity host, letting opportunity in and feeding it cookies, all kinds of opportunities come a calling. And so I kept opening my door, and soon my house was full and there was no room left for me.

My pal was lending me her very sweet and wise ear while I told her that I was gonna have to drop a commitment, that I was gonna have to kick one of these guests out of my house so I could keep living there. She is a very good person for putting up with my childish sniveling, and also for reminding me that it’s okay to be a little greedy, to want to be the girl with the most cake, but also that too much cake can make you barf. Or very nearly break down into tears in a Tim Hortons. But I guess this is really still a high, because I have this amazing friend, and I still have a shit ton of cake.

Emily Keeler is a regular contributor to Hazlitt and the editor of Little Brother magazine.

Christopher Frey
Grade: B+

The year started with leftover tears. My closest and dearest friend from when I lived in Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo, had just died in December. No friend has ever infuriated me so much—he had a habit of disappearing on benders for days on end, even when we had work to do—and yet there’s no one to whom I’ve ever felt as deeply indebted.

If there’s one character you meet in life who presents all the dramatic materials necessary to write a novel or screenplay, mine would star Marcelo. For example, he liked telling me stories about having random sex with hit men—unlikely enough, this happened on three separate occasions in a space of two months. (One of the hit men had a day job as a shoe designer.) I should’ve worried for Marcelo’s safety, but figured it was merely the kind of thing some guys like to say to hot up the sex.

Marcelo was fearless, maybe too fearless; approaching fifty, he was every bit the queeny old punk who was only on passing terms with the idea of moderation. And he knew the various neighborhoods and scenes of Rio like no one else. He could talk to anyone, and we did, from society ladies and state ministers to occult shamans and drugged-out eighteen-year-old gang members brandishing assault rifles. He’d lived all over the city, which was why depending on where in Rio we were at any given moment you might experience a slightly different Marcelo. His personality changed to reflect the person he was back when that place was his stomping ground. You could map Rio according to the Marcelo you’d find in Copa, Centro, Niteroi, Lapa, Leblon or Vidigal.

Because of each other we did things and went places we wouldn’t have otherwise—which is one of the best things you can say about someone. When he died it felt like an entire city and my reasons for loving it went with him.

In Toronto, things brightened. Later in January, I turned forty-two the same week as I started a very promising new job. A quiet but agreeable birthday given that it broke a streak of three consecutive birthdays on which someone broke up with me. At the new job I was fortunate to recruit one of the most talented writer-editors I know to help me launch Hazlitt—even if she’s prone to texting me loopy entomophobic messages late at night. (To be fair, her fears of a cockroach infestation proved founded in reality.)

In my reading, it was the Year of Stalin. The Soviet leader figured as either a main or background character in five books I read (without my realizing it at the time) consecutively.55Including John Grey’s The Immortalization Commission, Soldaten, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, and Koba the Dread by Martin Amis. To break the string I moved on to Lynn Crosbie’s Life is About Losing Everything. Which it is. My mood improved.

Launched Hazlitt on August 23, though we didn’t decide on that name until the very last minute, legal concerns forcing the change. ‘Hazlitt’ wasn’t my idea and it didn’t feel right until I saw our art director’s design of the draft nameplate. When I look back over my dayminder at the weeks preceding launch, every page is an illegible, demented scrawl going over the edge of the paper. Then, August 23, it’s entirely blank. Then the psychotic handwriting starts all over again. We’d been gunning it flat-out only to arrive at a starting line.

The Hazlitt launch proves hugely gratifying. Traffic surpasses expectations; expectations are forthwith raised. Celebrated by drinking tequila sodas from mason jars one night with the senior editor in Trinity Bellwoods park. We talked about our plans for Hazlitt, esoteric music, and bugs.

Attended my high school’s 25th anniversary reunion—a private boy’s prep school in Toronto. You go into these things telling yourself it will be awful, anticipating nothing but existential pain, and they turn out rewarding enough, like a Will Ferrell movie. Notably, the actors who played the Sweathogs Epstein and Horshack in Welcome Back, Kotter (I was too old for Degrassi) both died this year.

Went to Barcelona with my new girlfriend. There were too many reasons why this trip could have gone wrong—such as staying in a friend’s apartment though he was in the midst of a divorce and his Russian, soon-to-be ex-wife would be the one taking us in—but it proved a magical two weeks of over-indulgence.

Statistically, what happened in my world in 2012 was the sum total of one wedding, two divorces, zero jailings, one funeral, two births, no broken bones, and two very satisfying over-the-top drunks. An acceptable result on the scales of human drama, I suppose.

Leonard Cohen once said it was “incautious to declare yourself a happy man.” By many measures this year deserves better than a B+. Superstition, however, prevents me from grading it higher.

Christopher Frey is the Editor-in-chief of Hazlitt.


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