2015 in Retrospect


The world changed in 2015, didn’t it?

We’re a month out now, already immersed in 2016.  Still, 2015 is a year we’ll be talking about for a long time, a year we’ll point to and say, this is when they came to light. This is when the things we had been trying to ignore finally captured our attention.

2015 refugees

2015 terrorism: Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Syria, Yemen, Paris, more

2015 gun violence

2015 Black Lives Matter

2015 climate change

My hope for 2016 is that we make real progress toward resolving these crises. Not just talk about them, but get to the root of them, understand why they’re happening, and make things better.  Who will come forward in 2016 with compassionate solutions?  Who will be brave enough to do the work?  I hope we all will.

There was good in 2015, too.  Oh, there was good.  Remember when someone decided to make Alexander Hamilton’s life into a hip-hop musical?”  Remember when we found liquid water on Mars? Remember when Patricia Arquette talked about the gender pay gap, and Meryl and Jennifer were like:


Remember this happy day?

My 2015 was also a combination of bad and good.  It was beautiful and it was difficult and I’m changed forever.  Here’s how it happened:

January: I move from my first apartment in DC to my second.  The epitome of grace, I manage the lodge the U-Haul’s front tire in my landlady’s fence and spend the better part of an hour maneuvering it out, praying she won’t see.

I also feel, in the first, fresh days of 2015, “an immense freedom.  I can do anything I want in 2015.  For this–possibly brief–window in my life, my options seem limitless.  Yet another jubilant and terrifying feeling, but a feeling I’m glad to be acknowledging after hiding from it for most of 2014.”

A Little Blatant Foreshadowing: that observation will set the tone for my 2015.


February: I have my first fainting spell, and am disappointed that no one comes running with smelling salts.  Give blood regardless, kids.  There’s usually Keebler at the finish line.

I host my first annual Academy Awards watch party.  Yes, I made that statuette from a tomato paste can and tinfoil.  Yes, the winner reported that it fell apart a few weeks later.


March: I read 100 books in one year.  I am immensely proud.  And immensely regretful of that one Nicholas Sparks.

My parents come to visit.  It is my dad’s first time in DC, and I love to see him see my city for the first time.  He’s where I get my history buff from. Together, the three of us explore Annapolis, and then drive across the bridge to Kent Island, where we sit just above the water and take our time cracking open crab’s legs and swirling them in cups of butter.  “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles plays, and I am utterly content.  (Though we did miss you, Am.)


April: My friend since birth — well, her birth, at which time I was 8 months old and reciting Rilke — Mara comes to visit.  We go to a beer and wine festival, walk down to see the cherry blossoms (I am underwhelmed), and do about three years’ worth of catching up.


May: Lest you think 2015 was all sunshine, let me tell you that for large chunks of 2015, I am deeply unhappy.  I’ve felt it for months, but one day walking home, I finally admit to myself, I am deeply unhappy.  My years of working my way through school, of always knowing the natural next step, have abruptly ended, and I don’t know what to do about it.  I feel directionless and hopeless, and even my usual tendency to create goals to drive myself forward is at a loss.  I loathe not knowing what I want to do with my life, a feeling compounded by social media, on which my dear friends are going to graduate school and getting married and moving abroad. I wonder if I’m behind them, if I’m less successful, if I’m not where I’m supposed to be, if I’ll feel this way forever.

I don’t talk about this with anyone because I don’t talk about things like this with anyone, but I brood, day after day, until I figure out what I want.

In the spring, a list, of all things, helps set me on my path.  I google, in a fit of desperation, “how to figure out what to do with your life,” and Google suggests making this kind of list: on one side of the paper, I write down the kind of work that would make me happy.  On the other side, I write down the kind of work that would crush my soul.  The happy side contains things like “teaching,” “sharing history,” “public speaking,” “researching,” “writing,” and “discussing ideas.”  I decide, then and there, bleary-eyed in my loft, that I am going to go to graduate school to study history.  It’s what I’ve wanted all along, I realize. It’s the kind of work that brings me life, I realize. I begin studying for the GRE a week later.  And slowly, giddy with purpose and promise, I begin to feel like myself again.

June: My friend Jessica visits. We’ve been buddies since kindergarten (believe me, Catholic school bonds you for life), when I was afraid to go up into the loft and she stayed downstairs to play with me. That kind of thing bonds you for life, too. We have many adventures together during her visit, from a spontaneous road trip to Assateague Island, to looking for Taylor Swift’s apartment in New York City and finding the set of How to be Single instead, to eating salads and milkshakes for dinner every other night (our logic is that the salad cancels out the shake).


July: I spend a rainy Fourth with friends in Towson, Maryland.  Elizabeth teaches us all how to play the card game Hand and Foot (she’ll have to teach me again next summer … sorry, ET), and when the clouds part briefly, we go for a long walk, dodging puddles.


A dignified work event is rendered ridiculous by blueberry cobbler.  I still can’t think about that night without laughing hard.  I test out SoulCycle and — once I get past the satanic implications — enjoy myself, though goodness knows it’s too expensive for me to ever try again.

August: My friend Elizabeth and I embark on a colonial Virginia road trip: we visit Richmond, Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  In Richmond, we stumble upon the church where Patrick Henry stood up and spontaneously declared, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” We strangely encounter George Wythe — whom neither of us has heard of until now — everywhere we go, from his grave in Richmond to his house in Williamsburg. We stroll through Williamsburg at dusk, and it strikes me that it’s the closest I’ll ever come to strolling through Williamsburg in 1775.


I give TJ some tips on a quaint little writing project he’s been working on:


Called the Declaration of something?

We are shown around James Fort by Bill Kelso, who rediscovered it in 1994 (oh, that I were so lucky!). He lets us step over the ropes of the ongoing archaeological dig, and passes around a 17th-century pot that was taken out of the ground that day.  It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  I ask the archaeologists if they need an extra pair of hands.


They say no thank you.


The worn space between the two center crosses is where historians believe John Rolfe and Pocahontas stood to be married in 1614.

At the end of the month, I go to Baltimore with fellow Minnesotans to see the Twins play the Orioles.


September: I reflect on a year of being 24, and celebrate 25 (two days later, I sheepishly return the Ferrari).  His Holiness the Pope comes to Washington, DC, and we have a moment I’ll never forget.

October: I take the GRE, and let’s just say that things don’t go as expected.  My friend Gabi visits (I was completely spoiled with visitors in 2015!), and we do some of our favorite DC things: sit on the steps of the Library of Congress with pizza and milkshakes, take a White House Garden Tour, and visit the National Zoo. I am Bernie Sanderson for Halloween, a pun I am immensely proud of, but which few people actually get.  Fail.


November: My sister Amy decides to make her own dreams come true and drives by herself from Minnesota to Seattle, where she obtains an apartment and a job in short order.  She’s bold and determined, and I love her for it.  I try not to dwell on the fact that she chose to put an entire country between us.

I fly home for Thanksgiving, and upon arrival in the Twin Cities, bundle up to attend a Gopher football game with my parents.  It is 25 degrees outside and my poor, warm-blooded DC heart almost cannot handle it.  But I’m glad to be back with my people.


Thanksgiving is at our house. I get sappy and embarrass my cousins: I remember their births, and now they’re in high school.  I have officially become one of those obnoxious adults who exclaims over how tall kids have grown.  Cheek pinching is probably next.

I take the GRE again and it finally goes my way.  I wait until I am in the elevator before performing my victory dance (it’s best to have no witnesses):


I begin in earnest to apply to graduate schools.

I attend the Gershwin Award Concert (see: amazing job perks).  Well, I staff the concert, and then get to sit down and watch (Willie Nelson! Paul Simon! Alison Krauss!).  Before the show begins, I am stationed at the will-call tent, trying to manage my shock and awe at seeing Luke Wilson and Neil Young casually stroll by.  Later, I run into the middle of the street — ruing painful heels — to help direct traffic.  I just can’t stay outta things.

December: Tony Blair delivers the Library of Congress’ annual Kissinger Lecture.  Helen Mirren doesn’t show, to my disappointment.


Several work friends and I go to Boston for a weekend.  We follow the Freedom Trail from historical site to historical site, ending up on top of Bunker Hill at dusk. We sit in the dim and cold, watching the flag whip against the high flagpole and watching a woman follow her dog across the damp grass, and for once I’m not concerned about finding our way home again through the unfamiliar city.  History is following trails and taking tours, but history is also, I realize, sitting in the quiet and remembering.  That’s important too.


At the Old State House when we were asked to sit down, guess who bolted for the governor’s throne?

The next day we tour Harvard, where Elizabeth — bless her heart — goes with me to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.


My favorite part of the trip is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  The museum, designed by Mrs. Gardner to resemble a Venetian palazzo, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and that’s excluding the art studding the walls.

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Christmas is spent in Florida, where I am reunited with my sister at last. We honor our Russian heritage by making vayanika, hunt for shark’s teeth on the beach, take a boat on the Intracoastal Waterway, and I lose at Mexican train every night.  It’s glorious.

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And now, breathless, we’ve arrived in 2016.

May it be vastly different than we expect and more wonderful than we can imagine.

Here’s 2014 and 2013 in retrospect.


Please note: my observations, my opinions, my typos, and my generally cavalier attitude do not represent the views of the Library of Congress.  Regardless, it’s a cool place.  Come see us sometime.

3 responses

  1. What a year! Thank you for your honest account and for being you. I can’t wait to hear how 2016 unfolds, as graduate work in history is going to make you so happy!!!!!

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