It’s 4:00ish on a Monday afternoon in November and I’m on the back of a mototaxi, puttering speedily through sugarcane fields on a rutted dirt path headed to the beach. I’m in Buritaca, Colombia, a tiny coastal village on the Caribbean, speeding away from my hostel in the dense jungle and towards a stretch of oceanfront sand with four other travelers: two Dutch guys, a Dutch girl and an Aussie accountant. (I never did get his name.) But right now it’s just me and my Colombian taxi driver in his red t-shirt and the warm equatorial air, turned breezy with our speed, and the feeling. What’s the feeling? It’s freedom. It’s a lightness that’s hard to explain. My fate is up to this driver and his practiced facility on a bike. All I have to do is hold on. Mototaxis as transcendence: that’s my end-of-2019 hot take.
The beach is nothing to write home about, scattered with washed-up driftwood at waves’ edge. Slim white cranes swoop over the marsh behind us, protected by a sandbar. The beachside restaurants and bars are empty: Monday. The sun is already beginning to dip below the mountains silhouetted to the west. But the feeling of floating lightness from the mototaxi persists as I spread out my towel and dig my feet into the sand. Part of it is because I’m alone: these strangers have come with me here, but we just met a few hours ago, and I will likely never see them again. Part of it is because I’m disconnected: there’s no cell service for miles, no WiFi. And part of it is because there’s something transformative about letting go of who we are and who we’re perceived as and who we think should be, even for an hour or two, even for a few minutes on a rickety scooter. Because sometimes no one is watching. Sometimes that’s just what we need.
Performative living is a symptom of the present era. Is it a feature or a bug? Instagram and social media propel it, but it’s also how we’ve come to relate to people: we did this cool thing, we were also at that restaurant, we made it to XYZ event and did you hear what happened there? I like to share this stuff; I derive joy and a sense of recognition from the “likes” on a post, the eyes on a story, the laughter when I tell of the latest adventure. But not everything has to be for other people, has to feed the ego that way. (The irony is that this bit of writing itself is performative, of course. It’s also, mostly, just for me.)
Last year, I didn’t publish my annual blog post. I wrote a few things and scrapped them, moved on and let go. 2018 felt bigger than me, a watershed of painful politics and turning point for elevating disenfranchised voices. Who was I, to ask for attention in the midst of that? It’s a question I still ask. Why bother sharing my stories?
Much of the joy I’ve gotten in 2019 has been from telling and hearing stories, though. From opening up with friends and strangers and offering something, an exchange that balances the desire to be seen and the pull to step back and listen. It doesn’t always have to be deep. It just has to be true. Like the mototaxi thing. Like hanging out with a bunch of strangers on a beach with no motives and no distractions, just to see what it’s like, just to find the edge of something uncomfortable and new.
In 2020, more of that.
Things I did in 2019: Visited six new cities and spent time in six countries, all within the last four months; wrote 331 articles for TIME; highlighted 180 songs in my weekly new music roundups; chatted with Rihanna in the bathroom of Cipriani Wall Street; spent my third consecutive Memorial Day in Nantucket; saw a bunch of bison and a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone; binged Fleabag, Sex Education and Succession; decided I quite like orange wine; watched around 100 live shows in venues from Barclays Center to dingy dives; became one of those Rent the Runway obsessives (sorry!); lit my hair on fire accidentally, but it’s fine; stayed out too late; skinny-dipped; built a desk; collected new friends; interviewed Sheryl Crow for a live audience; painted my nails white and only white for the sixth year in a row; sent out 13 email newsletters (more to come next year); interviewed Lukas Nelson, Maggie Rogers, Zara Larsson, the Backstreet Boys, Joji, Billie Eilish, Maren Morris, Sigrid, Hozier, Lizzo, Carly Rae Jepsen, BANKS, Alec Benjamin, Jason Derulo, Mike Posner, Keke Palmer, DJ Earworm, and the guy who created BTS, and wrote about Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, the Jonas Brothers, Succession, Looking for Alaska, Game of Thrones, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge, K-pop, Serena Williams, a cat fashion show, a chicken sandwich and dating.
Things I’m working on for 2020: Celebrating my friends and family (lots of weddings in store); staying diligent about budgeting; being consistent with my newsletters; attending more non-music events in New York, like talks and readings and art shows; finishing The Brothers Karamazov; sending postcards; listening, really listening, to people; checking off my to-do list.