The Year in Habits
2017 in review
There’s a lot about growing up that I like. I like living alone. I like the responsibility and the lack of responsibility in it. It’s an enormous relief to me to just clean the whole apartment without negotiating who will clean what, and what that will mean for the relationship. I like to become more particular, with more arbitrary rules, more worn and weathered habits: no (fully) black shoes, and I can boil an egg to any preference without a timer, etc.
I didn’t live with much intention last year, and I’m okay with that, too. I finished my master’s and started a new job. I took a trip with my best friend, watched my only brother get married, and visited my family for every holiday. I did the work; I went with the flow.
I dreamt often of waves—waves that rushed in and lapped hungrily against the roads they flooded, waves that came and swept away my keys and things that mattered. At last I woke up and understood that I had not set one real boundary anywhere for this new life, and that any I had built in the past needed mending, or had long been swept away. I sat down to design them again.
I declined things more often, pulled away where I hadn’t had the nerve to before, opened up more, offered less explanation—I paid more attention to what I wanted.
Good habits fell away. So did bad ones. There were others, which I picked up without noticing—silly, inconsequential habits, not essential for survival, yet not foolish or destructive. Just a bit frivolous, maybe, and more importantly, sentimental. I realized that I had somehow become quite unsentimental. And being unsentimental, I decided, is actually no virtue, no fun at all, and no real use to anyone—least of all yourself.
This year, I cooked a lot of chorizo bolognese. And pulled pork with green chiles. And the chili I used to cook for my friends in college. This year, I put care and spirit into what I ate again.
If you know me well, you know that in September of 2015, I moved by myself into an apartment that measures sixteen feet long by six feet across. This apartment does not have a kitchen. What it has is a mini-fridge (my nemesis), a microwave, a hot plate with two burners, and the small slow-cooker my mother sent me here with. What I do with all this is cook very carefully. At first, there were a lot of hardboiled eggs, canned beans, toast, and ramen. Now there is much more inspiration, more head-scratching and list-making, careful strategizing about how ingredients will make it into their vessels, and plenty of swift disinfecting.
I have yet to cook chicken in here, because it scares me. I have yet to make my mom’s sopa de arroz. But I have signed yet another lease. So here’s that bolognese.
I also ate a lot of pistachio ice cream. I’m not sure I ever ate pistachio ice cream in all my life before 2017, but I am now sure that nothing but pistachio will do. Butter pecan is fine if there is no pistachio to be had and your heart is already set on ice cream. This is often the case because pistachio is a profoundly underrated, understocked flavor of ice cream. Go now, and get thee to some. (Here, take this map to guide you.)
For the nearly forty years my father worked as a letter carrier, he ordered the same two things on his lunch break each afternoon: a cup of coffee and a vanilla ice cream cone. I don’t know how he ever mustered the physical energy required for the day on such a meal. Yet after this year I understand that it was from this quiet, un-frivolous person I learned the small joy of rewarding myself for exceptionally hard work, when able, with a flavor of ice cream.
I got a bit carried away with perfume in 2016. So this year, I vowed to buy only one rollerball per season. I began in the summer with Balenciaga’s Florabotanica, given to me by a good friend. It smells like a hothouse of simultaneous relief and nervosa, and goes well with starting a new job (and sweat). Then Etat Libre D’Orange’s Remarkable People, which smells like the woods and champagne, for a short-lived fall. For the long winter, Tom Ford’s Orchid Soleil: it’s creamy, powdery, and a bit matronly (which has never served as a deterrent to me). It reminds me that I have always been excited to grow older, and that there will be flowers again.
And whenever I found myself in the Boston airport this year, I strolled with practiced nonchalance into the duty-free shop to visit a particular scent. I had long been a virtual admirer of Sara Berman’s Closet, an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I never did make it in person, but I’ve already preordered the book it inspired.) After a midlife divorce, Berman was free, for the first time in her life, to live any way she wanted. She decided to move into a tiny New York City studio apartment and to wear only white. On the quirky, yet militantly sorted shelves sits the lone frivolity: a bottle of Chanel No. 19. Created in 1971 in ode to Gabrielle Chanel’s August 19th birthday—with heady top notes of woods and iris—the scent is perhaps best described as uncompromising.
Besides these duty-free havens, the scent is only sold in full bottles at Chanel stores that I am sure I will never enter. So I spritz my wrists with this each time I pass it in the airport: an exhilarating indulgence on the way out and a grounding, yet none-too-serious reminder on the way back home: You’re a one-woman show.
This letter was originally sent via TinyLetter on January 8, 2018.