The air is so dry in Sun Valley that you age faster. In just a few days, crows’ feet blossom, crinkling, by my eyes. I was worried about getting carded at restaurants in town — I lost my ID in the airport on the way here — but no one has blinked twice at my martini order. At Christmas dinner, a family friend told me I looked old. (She assured me it was in “a good way.”) I use three layers of moisturizer daily, anyway.
My skin is pale right now, the ghosts of summer’s freckles lingering just barely on my nose. They’re a good reminder of a year that had its fair share of sun, even if it often felt — for many reasons — so dark. But as 2017 wanes, I choose not to linger too long on shadows. Instead, I’ll look back on the places I picked up those freckles. There were rosé-spiked beach afternoons in Ibiza; last days poolside at my childhood house in Santa Barbara; a late spring walk on a windy Nantucket path; early fall hikes in the Idaho mountains; and a boat off the coast of Capri. Amazingly, I avoided my usual spate of sunburns. I’ve been using sunscreen this year.
One sweltering Sunday afternoon in June, on the hunt for a tan while Manhattan was sunk in a heat stupor, a friend hit me up about finding solace at a rooftop pool. We finally posted up in the corner of the Gansevoort Meatpacking’s tiny deck. There were no lounge chairs, just plastic benches lined up around the edge of the turquoise slip of water, littered with beautiful bodies. The music was loud, the cocktails were strong, and the sun was sinking fast. I angled my legs in its direction. Crammed next to us, a group of rowdy Spanish men had claimed space. They were club promoters from Málaga, and I bonded with one — let’s call him David — as we wryly watched a group of models across the pool snap a stream of ever-more-thirsty selfies. David, who was uncomfortably good-looking, wanted to know what I did. I told him I wrote about music.
“Do you have a background in music?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted.
“So how are you qualified to write about it?”
“I don’t know,” I responded, chastened into uncertainty. “I guess I’m lucky.” We exchanged numbers, but never spoke again.
But David, if you’re reading, here’s what I should have said: I am lucky, of course. But to doubt my qualifications is to doubt anyone who’s ever started something from the beginning. We are all students of our craft, learning as we go along. At the end of my tenure at my college newspaper, someone shared a truism that has stuck with me: we are only qualified to do the job once we’ve finished it. Expertise is a process, not a prerequisite. And I’m getting better every day.
I thought about this a lot after that David encounter, about what is earned and what is given, what is privilege and what is merit. Who am I to tell the world that SZA made the best album of the year? Then again, why shouldn’t my opinion matter, too, if it’s thoughtful and informed? I always had an obsession with downloading albums off of Limewire, with burning mix CDs and reading rock anthologies. Might that be background qualification enough?
Building confidence — both personal and professional — is no small battle. (Especially, it seems, for women. In the year of #MeToo, that much has become clear.) It’s a process, like anything important, and it requires conscious effort.
At the end of this year, I’m putting conscious effort into recognizing resilience. There was fire and flood; change and monotony; champagne and hangovers. Somewhere in the middle, life happened, and we survived it.
Things I did in 2017: Wrote 881 stories for TIME; listened to 32,664 hours of music on Spotify; said goodbye to my beloved childhood home; partied with Paris Hilton; kept up with a job I love and appreciate more each day; continued to send out my twice-weekly newsletter; binged Riverdale, The Bold Type, and Peaky Blinders; ate a lot of KIND bars for breakfast; worshiped at the church of Perfume Genius, and Jacob Banks, and Miguel; painted my nails white (almost) every week; discovered the small joy of an oat milk iced coffee while in England; chatted with Lin-Manuel Miranda; moved down to FiDi; spent seven whole hours building a dresser by myself, damn it; interviewed SZA, Demi Lovato, Tove Lo, Daddy Yankee, Fifth Harmony, Dua Lipa, Diplo, Mavis Staples, Kelela, Stereophonics, Portugal. The Man, James Blunt and so many more talented artists; threw out my old binders of meticulous grade school work; made friends and reconnected with others who are deeply fun, deeply thoughtful, and definitely inspiring; finally (finally!) finished Moby-Dick.
Things I’m working on for 2018: Meditating; playing piano; investing in anti-aging skincare products; writing for myself, and not always just for work; spending less time on Instagram and Twitter; being chill when old crushes get engaged; trying some new workout classes; cherishing all kinds of relationships; making travel plans; reading The Silmarillion; getting better sleep; amplifying messages that matter.