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Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe—Hands and Thimble, 1919   

This week
'Tis the season of lists and data, neat statistics that kinda do and kinda don't capture what these past 12 months have felt like. Many of my friends have been posting their most-played songs and albums of the year. I like these little glimpses into their private lives, their soundtracks to doing the dishes or dancing alone or putting their infants to sleep or driving aimlessly just to get out of the house. (I'm also aware that sharing these lists is free advertising for Spotify, so let me also plug this tool from Hype Machine, which makes it very easy to buy directly from the artists you've been listening to on repeat. Art isn't free.)

I clicked on the "Your Top Songs of 2020" box, too. I felt a twinge of something—was it shame? sadness?—when the app told me just how few hours I listened this year. In many other ways, I've regressed to my teenage self during the pandemic: perpetually grumpy and yearning for a wider world. But where my teen years were marked by obsessive music listening, 2020 has been one of relative silence for me. My most-played track of the year was minimalist pioneer Joanna Brouk's "The Space Between."

Here's Brouk in 2017, the year she died, on how she started making music: "I found one note that I loved and I played that note again and again and again. And I just listened. Put the sustain pedal down and just listened to the overtones. And I just played that note til I heard the next note, and the next note, and then eventually I would hear a melody. So I taught myself to play, and it wasn't just the notes. It was the space between notes."

Of course this song, more than any other, defined my 2020. A year of the same few notes, again and again. A year of listening and self-teaching. A year of hovering between before and after. Minimal, but not empty. A year of sustaining the faith that eventually we will hear a melody.

I'm reading
The lives of mothers seeking asylum and navigating coronavirus at the U.S.-Mexico border. Detained immigrants were punished for requesting COVID tests. Nursing home caregivers are completely burned out. How coronavirus ravaged Iowa while the government did nothing. Good questions to ask about the vaccine. Why calls for people to "come together" post-Trump are not useful or realistic. A more extreme gun-rights movement is emerging. The death of the department store—and the U.S. middle class. How the alcohol industry works to downplay the booze-cancer connection. A middle-schooler learns about math equations and queerness from a supportive teacher. A writer searches for her family's history in Taiwanese forests, farmers in the West Bank practice "agroresistance," and antiracist activists work to rename U.S. hiking trails. How a 1979 open letter to the Supreme Court of India changed the way many Indians thought about women’s rights. How the white political establishment anointed Charlamagne tha God as the spokesman for all Black voters. "The development of what’s popular in the era of Instagram means trends can crescendo and crash in days, if not hours." Dolly Parton understands that "money is something you do, rather than something you have." Turns out aging is pretty good. "I'm Nicole Kidman – I'm A Married Woman – I'm Your Troubled Wife."

Pie chart
The Home Cooking Pie

A quick admin note

This week marks the five-year anniversary of my newsletter as a business. Next week, I'll have some announcements about the future. (No, no, I'm not moving to Substack.) I am grateful that you are all partners with me in this independent micro-media experiment.

To my dear paying members, thank you for the years of support! Many of your plans are set to renew this month. If you subscribe at the $5/year minimum but feel like this newsletter is worth more to you than 10 cents per issue, you can go here, sign in, and edit your "plan amount" to increase your annual rate. If you read it every week, I'm asking for a bump up to $15/year. But I completely understand if you don't have the budget for this.

If you're not a paying member, you might be one of the 7,000 people who open this newsletter every single Friday but are not supporting it financially. If you are able to do so, you can become a new member here

I’m looking & listening
On CYG we're talking about food justice—and how to find your own pathway into community activism—with Melissa Acedera, who founded the incredible mobile food bank Polo's Pantry in Los Angeles. And I can't wait to start listening to Floodlines, which revisits the post-Katrina unnatural disaster in New Orleans.

It's list season.

I endorse
One of my very favorite writers, Aminatou Sow, has a newsletter now! It's smart and funny and warm—just like she is. Subscribe immediately. And spring for the paid version for an extra inbox treat.

What got you through this year?
As we close out this pandemic year, I find myself less interested in the mosts/bests, and more interested in the things, practices, habits, and gestures we relied on to get us through.

So let's make our own collective year-end reflection. Here's a form if you want to participate. (My answers are in there, if you're curious.)

We've got two final Big Friendship virtual events to close out this year, both with incredible writers!

Dec 7 - in conversation with Ashley C. Ford at 92Y
Dec 16 - in conversation with Rebecca Traister at NYPL

The Classifieds

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Inspired by nature? @BIG_BLUE_SUN celebrates the natural world with unique botanical sunprints. DM for pricing or give a follow! #ShopSmall

The Mandate Letter is a weeklyish newsletter that dives into the weird world of masculinity. In each issue, Men's Health contributor and Olympic medalist, Jason Rogers, explores questions like why men struggle with vulnerability and what our culture teaches us about being a man.

Start the new year off by telling the world about your business or project. Click for ad rates and info!

"I don't get to it every week, but when I do I am always blown away with the links you provide.  Thanks and keep it up!" -Mark. You know what my secret is, Mark? I subscribe to a lot of magazines and visit the actual websites of the publications I like and see what they've published recently. So old-fashioned.

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Ann Friedman
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PO Box 26932 | Los Angeles, CA 90026
© 2020