A long, dark year

Every year, I tell myself that this year is going to be better. This will be the year when things turn around — and on New Year’s Eve, I think about what ‘turning around’ looks like, and how at the end of the next year I will be able to look back on happy and glorious things, all the wonderful things that made life worth living. Every year. Every year I am wrong.

2016 has been a year singularly unworth living. Perhaps not the worst year ever, but one that combined a seemingly unending series of setbacks — of terrible things in the news, things in my personal life, things in my career, things in the lives of people I cared about. As early as February we were all joking around about how 2016 was terrible and it couldn’t possibly get any worse, but then it did. Get worse. An unrelenting parade of terrible things, one after the other.

I don’t talk about my personal life here as much any more, for a variety of reasons, and in dark years like this, sometimes I realise that terrible things are happening below the surface while everything within sight looks rosy and calm. Everything is fine, they say. Nothing bad is happening, they say. Move right along, they say. The waters may be ruffled by the events of the year — and this has been an eventful year, I say, in rather an understatement, but the core is solid, right?

The core is not solid. This probably wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it has been one of the most difficult, and not in a triumphing over adversity and finding strength through challenge kind of way, not that I believe that’s a kind of way to begin with. It’s just been a shitty year, and I can’t see that I’m sad to see the back of it rapidly approaching, as I sit here on the shortest day of 2016, wondering what else the year could possibly have in store for me, because hasn’t it flung enough at me?

This has been in some ways a year of disarticulation: Things are so flagrantly wrong that I kind of find myself at a loss for words. It’s popular to mock people for saying things like ‘I can’t even’ or describing the world around them in formulaic terms (‘a dumpster fire’) but sometimes we reach for these things because they are all we have left. The only things we can really use to describe something that is so huge and terrible and frustrating that it resists actual language. 2016 is the year of I can’t even because I truly cannot even with this. I can’t. I just can’t.

To be struck without words is akin to watching a candle gutter to the bottom of a wick and snuff itself out on the solstice, knowing that hours of darkness stretch ahead and suddenly feeling frozen, unable to move to turn on a light switch or light another candle or crack a glow stick to bathe the room in a sickly, ominous kind of light. When you make your living through words, are understood through words, derive satisfaction from words, experience positive reinforcement from the people around you for, forgive me, using your words, this is devastating. If you, too, live and die by words, you understand perhaps how painful and frustrating this year has been for me, how dismaying and disheartening it is for every single thing to turn into a monumental struggle, something that twists and snarls around me and haunts me with inadequacy. I’ve written a lot of words this year, and most of them feel like garbage, and that just makes it worse, that I can be surrounded in rivers in ink, and hate everything I’ve said. I am a baker who suddenly interprets sweet as salt, everything turning acrid and ashy around me.

I always reflect on the solstice, particularly the winter solstice, because it feels like a good day of the year to sort of take stock, and see how things are going, and friends, they are not going well. We live in an era where sometimes it feels like we are all supposed to perform ‘everything is okay,’ but somehow we are all also supposed to show everyone our feelings. I am not a feelings-shower — I never have been, really, though sometimes I poke around at the edges of how emotions influence interactions and shade the world we live in. Sometimes it feels like ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ has become so extreme that if we don’t actively express precisely what we feel and how things are going, then it’s not really happening to us, that our compassion for others is contingent upon having them flay themselves on a platter for our entertainment and pleasure. I don’t like this, I say, again feeling like my words are inadequate.

If 2016 teaches you nothing else, let it be this: The saying that we should be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle, is a saying for a reason. Sometimes our words are formulaic and trite because they express a quintessential truth. Do not presume to know what is going on in someone’s life, and don’t ask to know, either. Just consider that the people you see sailing effortlessly along on untroubled waters may in fact be fighting monsters underneath.