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New Year's Meme 2015

Oops! This meme, which I fill out every year as December wanes, is coming to you a couple days late (though I did start it in 2015). Longtime readers with eidetic memories will notice that I have eliminated perhaps four of the regular questions; they were either ones to which I could never think of an answer ("What song lyric best sums up your year?") or simply ones that I always found stupid ("With whom did you talk on the phone the most this year?"). I've also added a question about live performances (since they've become a bigger part of my life), and one about weddings (since I actually attended one).


1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Played pub trivia. I started in June and was soon going twice a week with a team from my old church. It's been fun (guess it helps that our team is pretty good), but spending two nights a week at restaurants makes for an expensive addiction (Sons Two and Three are on the team, so that's three tabs I'm picking up). I may have to give it up (or cut waaaaaay back) in 2016.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did not keep them (that is, my attempts were unsuccessful), but of course I will make more this year -- indeed, they will probably be the same ones I made last year. Some people would call this pointless, but I have come to realize that the annual re-making of failed resolutions is my teeny-tiny way of expressing some hope for the future. The year I *don't* re-make those resolutions is the year you'll know that I have been given scant weeks to live.

3. Did anyone close to you get married?
Yes. Two friends from a choral ensemble I sang with (for, I don't know, eight years? They were in it for the last three or so) got hitched in the most hipster affair I have ever witnessed. I was super-honored to be invited, as these are two lovely, cool people, and I wasn't sure I could really claim closer acquaintance with them than the rest of our singing group (not all of whom were on the guest list). Plus, I'm old enough to be either of their mothers (that said, I always thought the bride and I really clicked -- we laughed at the same things, which may be the definition of "clicking"). Highlight of the evening was dancing with the groom, a wonderful dancer who took the time to do that just so I'd get on the dance floor (I don't dance, and must have looked pathetic -- though I really didn't feel it -- watching from the sidelines).

4. Did anyone close to you give birth?

5. Did anyone close to you die?
I have to think about that question harder each time it's asked, because every year I seem to attend more funerals than I did the year before. And the answer is that while no one in my very closest circle died in 2015, there were two deaths that touched my life.

One was a member of my former congregation, someone the Man and I knew fairly well from our heyday of heavy church involvement. Okay, technically, every year of my adult life has been part of that heyday for me, but I'm talking about the 1990s and very early 2000s, when I had a wonderful choir (in which the Man and our late friend sang bass) and the Man served (again, with our late friend) on the Church Board.

Byron was someone who'd hoped to be a minister -- he'd even earned an M.Div. degree from a good seminary -- but who never managed to secure a position and eventually gave up trying. He was, however, a dedicated student of the Bible who taught a very successful Sunday School class (it was always full, no matter what our general church attendance was like) for as long as I knew him. Meanwhile, he plugged away working for a difficult employer (let's just say "Mart" is part of the name) and struggled with diabetes and various family issues. As weighed-down with cares as that makes him sound, I still think no one would have expected him to die as young as age 60, except that cancer struck.

I think it was also cancer (but I need to get one of those Italian obituaries properly translated to be sure) that took Carlotta Guareschi, the daughter of Don Camillo creator Giovannino Guareschi, just before her 72nd birthday. She and her brother hosted my brief but memorable Little World visit in 1998, for which I will always be grateful. Immediately after I read the news of her passing, I posted Carlotta-related items here, here, and here.

6. What countries did you visit?
None outside the U.S. You know, I would delete this question from the meme, except that I don't want to give up hope that my answer will someday change. (That 1998 trip was the last time I left these shores. *sigh* )

7. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
  • Success at weight-loss and de-cluttering.
  • A better attitude (not saying mine was horrible in 2015, but there were some dark moments).
  • Job security and/or job satisfaction.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Staying employed at the church. The indignity of the whole Guitar Man business wounded me deeply, and ever since Easter I've alternated between (1) being sure I was on the verge of being ousted and (2) being sure that the stress would cause me to quit before things ever got to that point. Neither of those alternatives came to pass ... but there's always 2016.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Meeting deadlines at my schools. I was worse than awful.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes. In early November, my right leg starting hurting intensely. Some days, my calf was so sore that I could barely walk. It took several doctor appointments before a specialist diagnosed "water on the knee" (to use old "Operation" parlance) and a Baker's cyst (the probable root cause is some mild osteoarthritis that I've known about for fifteen years). The fluid was leaking into the leg and causing the calf pain. Even though the situation seems (finally) to be spontaneously healing itself, I still experience a fair amount of (localized, intermittent) pain. Bad times.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Wow. I usually answer this one with reference to some experience I paid for, like a trip or a concert, but this year I'll name a couple of material things. First was the Christmas present I bought for the household at the very, very end of 2014 -- yeah, technically, that means it shouldn't qualify, but I bought it after I posted the New Year's meme for that year, so I'm declaring it eligible for mention in this one. And anyway, I got some of the necessary accessories for it during the first few days of '15. What am I talking about? Our new TV, of course. It's our first flat-screen, and it was the hearth around which Two and Three and I gathered to watch many favorite shows and movies throughout 2015. And despite a lifetime of attempting to dissociate myself from consumerism and mindless mass culture (American style), I am oddly unashamed of the purchase (or of this answer).

Also back in January 2015, I used my personal Christmas money to buy myself a very nice pair of wheeled suitcases, and all I can say after a year of using them for little trips is that I'm sad I waited all these years to do it. Oh, I know why I waited -- my old college bags were still usable, and I don't like to discard usable things -- but what a difference the new stuff makes to my old muscles!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
All my boys made me proud. If I have to award a prize, though, then Three gets it for putting up with me. As the only boy at home, his lot is the hardest.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Donald Trump's, but I really should say that of the far too many Americans who continue to support him no matter how outrageous and Know-Nothing-y he sounds.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Biggest line item was, as it has been for several years running, helping the older boys with their living expenses. The year 2015 included Two's final semester of college, for which his tuition was mostly covered by scholarships and my employee discount, but his living and eating expenses were mostly covered by me. Then One changed jobs in the Fall, falling behind on his rent twice during the transition. Mom to the rescue!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
  • Seeing some favorite artists -- Weird Al Yankovic, Garrison Keillor, Seth MacFarlane (no, not together) -- live in concert.
  • Shakespeare! After discovering A Midsummer Night's Dream in July and then laughing till I dropped at the B'way musical Something Rotten in August, I had a case of "Bard brain" for the rest of the year.
  • The prospect of seeing the B'way musical Hamilton, for which I bought a ticket back in June that I will use in a couple weeks.
16. Compared to this time last year, are you:
  • happier or sadder? About the same.
  • thinner or fatter? Definitely not thinner!
  • richer or poorer? My savings account balance is about where I want it to be, but my projected income column is full of question marks. Still, I am kinda healthy, employed, and able to afford not only the basics, but also various gratuitous entertainments for myself and my sons. That's about the same as a year ago, and I think most people would call it rich.
17. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Sorting and de-cluttering. When I put my mind to it, I can process a lot of accumulated junk. Alas, though, my junk-processing sessions are too few and far between.

18. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying (mainly about job security) and stress-eating.

19. How did you spend Christmas?
I talked about my Christmas Eve in this post. On the day itself, I arose very early (to finish wrapping Three's gifts) and watched five NCIS episodes (part of a USA Network marathon) while waiting for my boys to arrive from their father's place. They finally did, we opened the gifts, and it was off to my brother's house for brunch. Much, but not all, of my extended family was there, and we just hung out and chatted till the party broke up (earlier than usual, it seemed to me). Once home, Three played his new video games and I went to bed early. All very chill.

20. How did you bring in the New Year?
Ummm ... I watched some NCIS (another USA marathon) and Three played computer games right up till 11:55 p.m., at which point we switched the TV to ABC for the "New Year's Rockin' Eve" Times Square ball drop, ushering in 2016 with a fizzy grape juice toast after counting down to the appropriate moment. (Since when, though, is "New York, New York" the song that America rings in the new year with? No contemporary artist is capable of essaying "Auld Lang Syne," really? How about Seth MacFarlane, then?) When the moment was over, we resumed our respective activities.

Gee, I gotta get me a life, don't I?

21. Did you fall in love?

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Sneaking in late in the year to edge out all the other shows I watched and enjoyed was Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which ended its original run in 2014 but which I only just got around to seeing in 2015 (when my cable provider extended a couple months of free HBO). I talked about the program here before, and this is what I said:

The Newsroom is characterized by the same idealistic preachiness that I so loved in The West Wing, with similarly endearing (/annoying) protagonists brought to life by top-notch actors (Jeff Daniels -- who knew???) wholly committed to every pompous speech and each improbable plot twist. In short, there was nothing for a Sorkin fan not to love. Okay, I went into it prepared to be upset that there were only 25 episodes total; however, given the way he (Sorkin) structured the story arcs, 25 turned out to be just the right number.

My runner-up favorite would be FOX's The Grinder, a new comedy starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage that may be silly (or is it?), but honestly keeps me laughing for a solid half hour each week.

23. What was the best book you read?
I got a lot of pleasure from Terry Pratchett's Dodger last summer. Once again, though, it wasn't a big reading year for me. Holmes pastiches, fanfiction, student papers, and not enough Karamazov to count (yet) composed most of my literary diet.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Hmmm ... not sure I made one. I will say, though, that my family's ongoing interest in the Disney musical Newsies spurred an interest in its composer, Alan Menken, and I reckon I spent quite a few late-night hours listening to his back catalog. In case you're interested, there's more there than just The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

25. What was your favorite film of this year?
Oh, boy. As has become usual, I saw more good movies than I read good books (hey, you only have to commit two hours to a movie). Of the ones I watched in cinemas, the best flicks included Mr. Holmes (briefly described here), Steve Jobs (if only Aaron Sorkin wrote every movie), Room (surprisingly lovely), and Spotlight (wonderfully acted, if somehow anti-climactic) -- plus the new Star Wars, if the metric is "favorite" rather than strictly "best."

From the older films that I saw for the first time on DVD in 2015, the short list of top choices would be Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, Ed Wood, Revolutionary Road, and Leatherheads -- all commented on in this post -- plus, in the "okay, maybe not best, but definitely favorite" category, the original Newsies, which I bought after our second viewing of the play, then watched a dozen times over the summer and ended up preferring to its stage counterpart.

But the winner is ... the filmed version of Julie Taymor's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I twice drove two hours and paid $20 to see (it did a roadshow circuit of one-night only showings in select US cities this past summer). I flat-out loved it. Even those with doubts about the source material (and/or Taymor) should, if at all open to the charms of Shakespeare (and not categorically averse to the director's style), give this film a try (and on a big screen, if possible). IMO, JT and her actors make a compelling case for the play (warts and all).

26. What was your favorite live performance?
Ooh, tough one. I saw some great concerts and two amazing B'way shows, not to mention two performances (with different lead casts) of Newsies on tour ... and I almost hate to single one out. However, I'm gonna go with Bernstein* and name the now-closed B'way revival of On the Town, which I saw in January when I was in NYC for the Baker Street Irregulars' weekend. It was the original version of the show, not the bastardized Hollywood one (not that I don't enjoy the Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra movie, but wouldn't it have been even better with all the Bernstein tunes?), and it was out of this world. Great cast, amazing dancing, beautiful singing, marvelous full orchestra, and smartly funny book.

* (Astute readers will recall that one of the other live concerts I talked about seeing in 2015 was a semi-staged Candide at the Baltimore Symphony. It was a good year for Bernstein.)

27. What did you want and get?
Quality time with my boys. Many aesthetic experiences.

28. What did you want and not get?
Weight loss. I would also say romance, but I only sort of want it (and don't like the fact that getting it is probably connected to weight loss).

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 54 and did nothing special to mark it. My actual b'day was on a weekday, so I had to work. And there wasn't an especially appealing concert happening in Baltimore or Washington on the weekend before or after which I could turn into a b'day occasion for me and a friend or relative. That made this the first year since the Man's departure that I didn't give myself the equivalent of a party, and it was fine.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Weight loss. Job satisfaction. Maybe someone showing romantic interest in me, but maybe not, because terrifying. (Yeah, that was three things. Choose your favorite.)

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Faux (as in one-piece) twinsets. Like this. I must own ten of them now.

32. What kept you sane?
Movies, concerts, and Number Three Son. Also, sometimes, trivia. It was a nice addition to my routine.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
The people I usually name -- Steven Colbert, the President, Allison Janney, et al. -- remained near and dear to my heart. But new for 2015 was former "child" actor Max Casella, who played Bottom in that Midsummer Night's Dream I keep raving about. I liked his performance so much that I went out of my way to look for him in other things. Turns out he's worked steadily since his Doogie Howser days, though he hasn't had much in the way of front-and-center material.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
The spectre of Donald Trump as our next President. Also, the environmental summit. And gun control. But mostly Trump.

35. Whom did you miss?
My mother-in-law, whom I hardly see and who is losing her memory alarmingly quickly. Also, my sister, who moved an hour away.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
You know, I don't meet many new people. There was in influx in 2012, when I both changed churches and joined the Sherlock group, but that was unusual. I'd say 2015 was a more typical year: no brand-new friends to speak of. I did become better friends with a couple of established acquaintances this year, though, and both from pub trivia.

One is my sons' minister, who was hired by my old church after I left and who heads the trivia team. He's been a good friend to the boys, and now that I know him, I think of him as an honorary extra kid (he's a little older than my oldest). He's even come to New York with us a couple times.

The other fellow I came to appreciate more in 2015 plays on-and-off with the team and is the husband of a woman I've known for the whole 36 years of my association with my former congregation (so, since she was a kid). He's only ten years younger than I am, but he evidently wears his years much better, as a couple months ago someone mistook us for mother and son! It's hard not to bond with someone after that -- I guess I have two honorary extra kids!

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
I never seem to really learn life lessons, though I often have them brought home to me for the umpteenth time. "Don't miss deadlines, or people will treat you like a child"? "Don't get too attached to anything, since you can lose it all in a heartbeat"? "Plan ahead, so you don't end up in middle age with no insurance and no retirement and ..."?

Oh, no; wait: here's one I actually feel like I had brought home to me in a good way. Always be the mature one. See, some things may be worth sacrificing your dignity for, but most things aren't. I lost it over something trivial in November, and even though everyone I was with at the time said I was justified, I still felt rotten about it. And I'm glad I wallowed in feeling rotten, rather than shrugging it off, because it meant I didn't rest easy till I (finally) apologized to the other party involved (who'd evidently been thinking along the same lines and also wanted to make it right, so it seems we both learned). And I've tried harder since then to maintain my cool.

38. What was your favorite moment of the year?
Not sure. Number Two Son graduated from college in May, and he had me present him with his diploma (a thing that college personnel with graduating offspring usually do, but the kid does have to request it, and I left it up to him to decide). It was a really great moment, but also swift and surreal, so that I barely remember it now (well, you know what I mean -- of course I remember it, but as a blurry impression, not a coherent episode).

Oh, and I was pretty chuffed when a little music group that I perform with gave a concert of Sherlock-Holmes-related music. We actually did it twice, once in July and once in November; I think my bits were better the first time around, but I enjoyed both performances, and the audiences at least pretended to do so, as well.

39. What was your least favorite moment of the year?
I guess that would be the conversation with my pastor/boss back in April about the hiring of Guitar Man, which was presented to me as a fait accompli. Lady worship leaders and pianos are evidently icky -- er, I mean, not sufficiently contemporary-seeming to attract whoever it is we are hoping to attract with our worship services. (How many things were wrong with the previous sentence?)

40. If you could go back in time to any moment of 2015 and change something, what would it be?
This presumably means a piece of my own behavior, and I suppose I'd go back to March and submit a particular document on time (instead of late) at College #2. I was kinda called onto the carpet for missing that deadline, and I hate the thought of that boss having less respect for me now.

41. What are your plans for 2016?
  • De-clutter my house.
  • Lose weight.
  • Find new health insurance (my coverage through the Man's employer ends mid-year).
  • Get dance lessons for Number Three Son (we said we'd pursue it this past Fall, then didn't).
  • See a career counselor.
  • Practice the organ more.
  • Read more Karamazov.
  • Read more, period.

(Crossposted to Dreamwidth)