March 2021 Review

If you are looking for a way to make time feel like it is passing exponentially faster, try committing to the idea that you will write recaps of what you did each month. Somehow all 28 days of February passed without me ever stopping to take stock of my consumption habits, and before I had reconciled myself to that, suddenly March was over as well. I’ll blame it on the homogeneity of pandemic life, where one day tends to blur into the next without the structure of our old way of life to differentiate between them.

Thankfully, there is pop culture, which has become my primary method of marking up my calendar. Many years from now I obviously won’t remember early 2021 for its parties or vacations or events, but I know that I’ll associate it forever with a few particular books, certain songs, a handful of movies. And the Tiktok pasta. Definitely the Tiktok pasta. Time moves differently during a pandemic, and can feel slow, though it does still speed up when there are deadlines involved (ie. what is the latest possible date in April that’s still acceptable to post a March review). But if you’re lucky, when you look back on the things you’ve chosen to occupy yourself with, you’ll realize that your days have in fact been marvellously full.

  • Ridgerunner (Gil Adamson) To be honest, I probably would not have picked this one up had it not been shortlisted for the 2020 Giller Prize. (My brain goes into Uncritical Robot Mode when it comes to literary prizes, in that I will immediately seek out any and all titles that have a whiff of a Giller/Booker/Pulitzer nomination, regardless of whether or not they suit my personal tastes.) If picking this particular title up was unlikely for me, finishing it also became a serious question at several points. The writing is pristine, and Adamson does a skillful job of creating a vivid sense of time and place. The trouble is that the place in question is not one in which I would prefer to spend my time: the remote Alberta wilderness of 1917 where a twelve year old boy is making a go of surviving on his own, having escaped the strict nun who was caring for him in Banff after the loss of his parents. I personally would have stuck with life in Banff, where there were other human characters to interact with. But this is a story about people who crave wildness and solitude, so my wish to return to civilization could not come true. Objectively, an excellently crafted book worthy of a prize, but not one that could manage to win my heart.
  • Clap When You Land (Elizabeth Acevedo) I was skeptical about how much I would enjoy a YA novel told entirely in verse, but this book was a pleasant surprise. Told from the competing perspectives of two half-sisters on the day their father dies in a plane crash, this is a story about identity and opportunity and the joys and disappointments of being in a family. One sister hails from New York City while the other lives in the Dominican Republic, and each are unaware of the other’s existence until their shared tragedy prompts an unravelling of their father’s secrets. Both characters have a strength and a fullness about them that is reflected in Acevedo’s language choices. Her sentences are always bold and direct and purposeful, the perfect vehicle to express the innermost thoughts of teenage girls.
  • Dearly (Margaret Atwood) So I read one thoroughly Canadian book and one book of verse, naturally I needed to end the month with a book of Canadian verse. Margaret Atwood is certainly one of our country’s most famous poets, and her latest collection feels very much like it was shaped by the more rugged and frostbitten parts of this geography. At 81, and having recently lost her partner of 45 years Graeme Gibson to dementia, Atwood is concerned with the theme of deterioration: of the body, of the mind, the planet, the climate, general human communication, the spirit. These things can be unsettling to think about, but there’s something valuable about her unflinching perspective, about the way she uses the words she loves so much as both a cudgel and a shield.
  • Concrete Rose (Angie Thomas) Thomas’ blockbuster novel The Hate U Give was a gripping, emotionally resonant story that was largely inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, dealing with themes of institutional racism and police violence in a way that was honest and personal. Concrete Rose serves as a prequel, taking the parental characters from The Hate U Give and showing us what they were like as teenagers. It is in many ways a quieter novel, with lower stakes, but it still has the same confident voice and is infused with the same unmistakeable personality. Characters who would be treated as one-dimensional stereotypes in lesser stories– gang members and pregnant teenagers– become sympathetic and engaging here, without their very real flaws being excused. Life in the neighborhood of Garden Heights was clearly just as fraught and challenging in the late 90’s as it was in the original story, but as a reader I was more than happy to go back.
  • Love Story (Taylor’s version) There are few things in 2021 I am anticipating with more glee than Taylor Swift’s rerecorded albums, beginning with Fearless, originally released in 2008. I believe this would be true even in a normal year in which there were actual plans and events to look forward to. Her updated (but somehow spiritually identical) version of “Love Story” has filled me with a golden kind of nostalgia, and gives me full confidence that she’s about to pull off what initially seemed like an impossible feat.
  • Grammy Performers/Winners/Nominees The Grammys were actually halfway decent this year, and no one was more surprised than me. Turns out when the focus of the night is the industry’s most relevant artists performing the year’s biggest hits, the end product is more entertaining than a ceremony needlessly stuffed with legacy acts. Megan Thee Stallion was a multi-threat power house. Taylor brought folklore to life with all the woodsy firefly cabin magic I could have hoped for. HAIM proved that whenever venues are open again, they are a must to see live. Best of all, the show introduced me to tracks that had somehow escaped my attention earlier, like the Black Pumas’ “Colors”, and allowed me to newly appreciate a few songs that had made soft first impression, like “Levitating” by Dua Lipa. The show wasn’t perfect by any means (it continued the dubious tradition of snubbing Beyoncé in the major categories.) But it represented much needed progress.

What I Watched

  • Themes from the #metoo movement are emerging in contemporary filmmaking, notably in the Netflix movie Moxie and the Academy Award-nominated A Promising Young Woman. Moxie is the lighter of the two, revolving around a teenage girl who slowly begins to recognize the sexism and toxicity in her high school that has been normalized by students and adults alike. Inspired by her mother’s “riot grrrl” past, she begins to organize and fight back, along with a diverse group of fellow student activists. Similarly, A Promising Young Woman involves a protagonist who has decided to take matters in her own hands, to correct a culture that blames victims and absolves predators, though her means are reckless, dangerous, and questionably effective. It is a film that has polarized critics, but I’m on Team Thoroughly Enjoyed It, from its pleasing pastel aesthetics to its gut-punch portrayal of trauma and grief. Stories about sexual harassment and assault have long been whispered about, brushed over, and covered up– or worse, glamorized, or used as a cheap means of creating narrative drama. In these stories, and surely in others to follow, they finally get the prominence, nuance, and often even the justice they deserve.
  • Framing Britney Spears The New York Times exploration of the current legal and personal struggles of our generation’s most important icon was about as heartbreaking and infuriating as I’d been prepared to expect. Britney Spears has been a feature of my pop culture landscape for as long as I’ve had the awareness to survey it, and seeing what’s become of her, what our broken capricious culture and accompanying ravenous tabloid media did to her, it just makes me sad.
  • Allen v Farrow March apparently lent itself to documentaries concerned with the darker aspects of celebrity. This HBO series recounts the longstanding allegations of sexual abuse against Woody Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, along with an examination of his other predatory behavior in his life and in his films. Obviously this is a disturbing subject, and clips of Allen speaking over the telephone with a near-sociopathic coldness can be difficult to get through, but it is rewarding to watch Dylan, a woman who has been silenced and shouted down for more than two decades, finally share her story, uninterrupted, with the clear hope that this time she might actually be believed.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier There was some levity to round out the month. As a newly converted Marvel Stan, I’ve been all too happy to continue my exploration of the Universe with their latest tale. The Disney+ show takes two of Captain America’s most important supporting characters and turns them into stars in their own right. Like the audience, Sam and Bucky are learning how to continue on in a world without Cap, and it’s been interesting to see how the show is shaping itself around that absence. Tv more than film has always been considered a writer’s medium, which is why we get to see both characters delved into more deeply on an emotional level: that means exploring Bucky’s scars from his time as the Winter Soldier; or getting to the roots of Sam’s imposter syndrome. You’re never in more capable and entertaining hands than when you’re watching a Marvel movie, and that’s just as true of their television properties.

What I Made

  • Tiktok Pasta (Boursin variation) This might sound like some combination of blasphemous and preposterous, but Tiktok has been a real blessing to me this year. What other app provides you with this kind of abundance: life hacks and travel tips and diy projects, hair tutorials, skincare regimens, even surrealist comedy sketches? The infinite scroll just gives and gives, and never more tangibly than with its viral baked feta pasta recipe. The deliciousness of this pasta exponentially exceeds the amount of effort and time required, and if that weren’t enough, the variations it has spawned are just as miraculous and satisfying. Doubly blessed.
  • Minimalist Baker Veggie Sliders We are on the cusp of backyard barbecue season, the setting for my traditional quest to find the perfect veggie burger, and this year I think that quest may actually have been fulfilled. The thing with store-bought veggie burgers is that they are often tasteless and rubbery, while most homemade recipes call for a million ingredients and many tedious steps, only to result in a patty that is still not structurally sound. This recipe resolves all of those things, being packed full of flavor while only consisting of seven staple ingredients, making it about as mythic a find as the One Ring or the Holy Grail, only I didn’t even have to leave home to obtain it.

What I Rooted For

  • The NBA All-Star Game wasn’t as unexpectedly exciting as last year’s, but nor was it the dud that it has so often been in years past. More of a pleasant medium. The real drama came during the Three Point Contest, where Steph Curry (the best shooter in history, the most theatrical player in the league as well as my personal favorite) secured his victory with his very last shot. With Steph, it could never be any other way.
  • Both the Celtics and the Bruins put on middling to disappointing performances throughout the month of March and the less said about them the better.
  • Preparing for the 2021 Boston Red Sox season, and trying to keep my expectations healthy and low.

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