36 things I learned this year

I HAD AN end-of-year blog entry scheduled to post at 12:01 a.m. on January 1. It was called Bye, 2010, and I built it up and honed it down over a couple of months. It said:

I’m not in a wheelchair and my children don’t have cancer, so let’s call it a draw.

I hope you choke on the way out.

That was the whole thing. Nothing could be added or subtracted. It was complete and perfect.

Then as a side effort, I started a “what I learned this year” list and monkeyed with it over a couple more months—thinking of new things, taking them out when I remembered I’d actually learned them in 2009; feeling confident that certain items weren’t too personal or petty, thinking later that they were; deciding that petty’s no good and some of the personal has to go, but other personal might be okay with the right sound effect—and now it seems like the thing I should post instead, even though my reflections today are different in tone and outlook—yet again—from those of a month ago.

But this took a long time to write, so let’s just count those toward 2011.

Here are:



  1. How to make a hollandaise.

  2. How to curdle a hollandaise.

  3. How to save a curdled hollandaise.

  4. How to make a hollandaise and not curdle it.

  5. How to make croque-monsieur as good as what I got in Paris. (Though I like it better with vine-ripened tomato, which makes it croque-provençal; or with smoked salmon and dilled béchamel, which is croque-fishy-fishy.)

    • But what I got in Paris may not have been typical, since almost all the recipes I can find online are closed-faced, with broiled cheese and/or béchamel on top.

    • And apparently the Académie Culinaire has debated this very issue.

  6. That a proper béchamel includes an onion pique infusion—and that cooking the flour a little before you put the butter in prevents the finished sauce from tasting like flour.

  7. That suddenly understanding Rumi means life is probably pretty challenging.

    • That Rumi suddenly understanding you means it’s time for serious concern.

  8. That the little green chair has become the wrong one for cutting little boys’ hair. (Evidence: School pictures.)

  9. How to properly strop a straight razor.

  10. That when you don’t have enough time for the full male ritual with the straight razor, it’s still good for finishing up sideburns.

    • And for very carefully shaving tiny glass splinters out of bare feet.

  11. That drying your glasses with the blow dryer is good for keeping them from fogging up while you shave, but bad for not permanently fogging their anti-glare coating.

  12. That love in your heart is useless to anyone but you until it’s expressed. Clouds are nice, way up there; rain makes things grow down here.

  13. That I can ride a bike 390 miles in 38 hours.

  14. That this discovery occurring after a 372-mile course indicates a continued lack of impeccability with cue sheets.

  15. That 49 miles an hour downhill on a road bike is both as awesome a physical sensation as a G rating will allow and an object lesson in how you can’t separate the physical from the emotional.

    • But being forced to trim your speed during an object lesson in the inseparability of the physical from the emotional because a car turns in just before the speedometer hits 50 is evidence of God’s existence.

    • And God’s a real jerk.

      • Not just because of the car thing. We have a history.

  16. That the consequences of mega–comfort-eating can be held somewhat in check by distance cycling, but not after you attain your monomaniacal cycling goal and abandon the bike.

    • Especially when you’re learning to make béchamel, hollandaise, and croque-twinkie-snickers.

  17. That the city is beautiful at 3 a.m., by bicycle, alone.

    • And alone is the only way we can be sometimes.

  18. That an IP log can stake out a coherent narrative arc.

    • But coherence and truth are only synonymous in fiction.

  19. That I can tell the difference between knowing what the hell is going on and not knowing what the hell is going on, but it doesn’t help me know what the hell is going on.

  20. That grieving twice for the same person is all confusion.

  21. That the whole “improve your quality of life in winter with modern chemicals” thing doesn’t work if your penis doesn’t either.

  22. That once you hit 130,000 words on a first draft—not a sellable length if your track record doesn’t include an astronomically successful series of fantasies for adolescents—you find yourself hoping it becomes much shorter or much longer during the second draft, so you’ll end up with either a novel or a trilogy.

  23. That sense of humor may be genetic, but delivery and timing require repeated demonstration.

  24. That under certain personal circumstances, I’m capable of being the guy who flakes on the cool-but-non-paying collaborative project. (Sorry, Blake.)

  25. That it’s really easy to have THE TALK with a kid who’s crazy for science.

  26. That most of my miseries are direct results of my own failings.

    • And most of those failings weren’t avoidable.

    • So really, understanding this gets me nothing.

  27. That under a certain threshold, everything really does come down to money.

  28. That it is possible, with effort, to appreciate some of what you have while you still have it.

    • And five-year-olds make this both easier and more urgent.

    • Also much harder.

  29. That someone wanting what you naturally give is better than getting what you think you want.

  30. That if you can manage humor at your least graceful moments, it works much better than whatever you would have done otherwise.

    • But this is most easily remembered after you’ve already blown the opportunity.

  31. That Hemingway was wrong, and what’s right isn’t what feels good afterwards.

  32. That when a large corporation’s lawyers are angry with you, being on the side of virtue is of personal value only, and does not confer shielding.

  33. That some of those jerks honking and yelling at bicyclists are female.

  34. That fundamental things you believe about yourself may not be true, even if you’re already analytical and open-minded about that kind of thing.

    • Which very open-mindedness may have led you to those premature conclusions in the first place.

  35. That no matter what else I ever fail at, I’ve handled the bike thing with my boys pretty well.

    • And the cooking thing.

    • And the being emotionally present and sons-knowing-their-dad things.

      • Though that last one is, unfortunately, for better or worse.

  36. And that whatever you’ve done wrong in your life, the children who fill you when you’re empty wouldn’t have happened if you’d done any of it differently.

    • Though it can be a challenge to extol the redemptive qualities of cherubs while enduring the tantrum levels presently emanating from the goddamn tub.

    • And really, the sentiment only applies to stuff you did wrong up through the moment of conception. After that I got nothing.

  37. And one more, but that would make 37, which is just an ugly number.



I’VE ALWAYS RESISTED making New Year’s resolutions because I think you’re either going to do a thing or you’re not, so talking about it is just blather.

But these sound like good ideas.

  • Learn to make all five mother sauces. (Two down, three to go.)

  • Triple my income and relieve my wife of an inhumane share of our financial burden. (Given current value of x, 3x is not unrealistic.)

  • Survive winter (with working penis).

  • Finish—or come close to finishing—the second draft of this novel/trilogy/genius/landfill.

  • Learn to hone a straight razor.

  • Complete another SR Series—and an R-12, already begun.

In 2010 I handed the coat check girl my ticket. 2011 she’s going in the back. 2012 or so, I’ll see what I get. Chances are good it won’t be anything I’ve seen before.

May yours be better than the one you left.

And I’d like props for not using “hard-working” in the penis callback.





Filed under Anthropomorphization of calendar units, Favorite, New Year's, TMI

18 responses to “36 things I learned this year

  1. Tara

    I turned in my coat check ticket in 2009. The last two years have been pretty chilly without a coat. I should be getting it back this year. I am hoping for a better one, too. It’s a toss up. Lots of things are looking really good – somethings are looking scary.

    Where’s that damn girl?

  2. All the best Keith. How do you find time to learn all this stuff?

    Good luck on the SR.

  3. Tara

    She came back with my coat! And it’s a nice one.

    I don’t have cancer. (Literally – as in – just returned from the oncologist’s).

    I hope your coat comes back soon, too. A beautiful belted camel hair. Or cashmere.

  4. Four of the loveliest words in the English language, and congratulations!

    Belted camel works for me, though then I’d have to go buy shoes…

    • Tara

      Thanks. They were quite lovely to hear.

      Actually, what he said was, “I get to tell five people a year to go home and never worry about this again. I now have four left.” I felt like Charlie Bucket winning the Golden Ticket.

  5. Tara

    Sorry – I didn’t see that you had replied.

    No particular or manifested “celebration” – as I believe we did not allow ourselves to discuss the “might-have-beens.” Each subsequent doctor’s visit was just a “well, this is just a precaution” and the worst case scenario was just a scenario. We never told the boys so a celebration of not having something they never thought I might have seemed awkward. Dave and I rarely go out just the two of us (he works like a madman) so we’re okay just being here all together.

    But thank you for asking. Very much.

    • But you have to do SOMETHING!

      It should probably involve chocolate.

      • Tara

        Would it surprise you that I could go the rest of my life without ever having chocolate again? I am definitely a vanilla girl. Dave, OTOH, is a choc-o-holic. Must have the good stuff in the house at ALL times. He is also my master baker, chef, and grill meister. He’s got his own hollandaise thing going as well. Christmas dinner’s bordelaise was a work in progress. We went with the quick brown sauce base instead. Glad it made two cups. ;-)
        But back to the subject at hand, I did splurge on a Life Is Good sweatshirt ( those things are ridiculously overpriced) and bought lots of warm wool socks for the homeless. Gratitude for what you have goes a long way.

  6. I’m more a vanilla/caramel myself, but there’s always chocolate in the house, and it’s what keeps me awake during nighttime writing.

    Bordelaise…ooo, good idea…

  7. 1. 37 is NOT an ugly number.
    2. Numbers come in all sizes, flavours, colours, but they are all equal in the beauty stakes. (IMO)
    37. 1 is a beautiful number.
    38. Have you written a how-to-write book yet? I bet that would triple your income.

    • Well, that’s what their parents tell them—but 37, comprising the ugliest left-peering number facing away from the most angular right-pointing number, is mostly beautiful on the inside. What good is it to be a lucky prime and the atomic number of rubidium if you’ll never look good in a tux?

  8. Pingback: The obvious thing I learned this year, and my first-ever resolution | Keith Snyder

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s