New Year’s Eve falls squarely under that old Socratic definition of insanity: repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. Most everyone will admit that it’s an overrated evening filled with high expectations that ultimately ends up being just like every other night, only a bit later and involving a lot more booze.
The idea of a New Year is an appealing one, that with a turn of a page and another sunrise we are somehow in a different paradigm than we were the day before. That’s never been more appealing to me than it is now. 2016 involved an existential freefall that began with a cancer diagnosis in the family and ended with starting antidepressants in the last week of the year. In between, I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle, went on an epic road trip in a new-to-me car that reignited my passion for all things automobile and fly fishing, made dozens of new friends who are now dear and regular parts of my life, and crashed on my bike the day after returning home from that trip. It’s been a series of blurry peaks and valleys, of agonizing drudgery and unforgettable highs.
Of course, tomorrow will not instantly change us. We will not wake up with hangovers and crock pots full of black eyed peas and feel suddenly settled or resolved, there will be no obvious solutions to our problems. No matter how resolute we may be, the date on the calendar is not an enabler. The direction of the winds does not influence us as much as we lazily believe. But this is good news—it means that we are not limited to a single day for our reinvention or trapped in a vicious calendrical cycle.
When I reflect on what I can remember of the last year, it is overwhelming. I contemplate how quickly I went from being at peak mental and physical acuity to a mentally then physically broken being with the brain of an unreliable narrator. I look at what I have to show for the time that has passed, and tally it up to lots of scars and a badass classic car. I stare at this half-full page of words and feel such a thick and depressive brain fog that I am both amazed at how much I’ve already written and discouraged by how much I have not.
Writing about feel-good, decisive moments and victories is both immensely popular and hugely fickle. So many of today’s best-selling books are those that convincingly rally people into helping themselves in some way or another, through trickery of word or inspiring anecdote. Then again, those inspirational words can ring a bit hollow to those who can’t muster a smile or a positive thought. Something I’m stricken by lately is the roller coaster ride of my internal monologue, the way I could likely write two or three accounts of the same series of events with entirely different morals and tones. I could be a defeated nihilistic observer whose strange disconnect between brain and body puts them in a perfect position to highlight the sardonic, cynical realities of quotidian life. I could be a celebrated survivor who triumphed over the life-altering experience of being hit by a car and doubled down on faith and optimism and vulnerable, real friendships. Maybe even some combination of the two, a lovable curmudgeon who sees the irony in everything yet chooses positivity. I’ve learned that the best encouragement often comes not from enthusiastic platitudes but from small examples of survival, from willing admission of fault or sorrow or pain or joy or excitement and the ensuing encouragement and relationships.
What’s been most impactful for me is the reception that laying myself bare for the sake of storytelling has received—comments on writing scattered across the internet, on Instagram posts from cyberfriends who live halfway across the globe, sincere expressions of solidarity or voluntary vulnerability from people over cups of coffee—all of this has been an incredible sampling of what happens when we decide to share at all. Whether your momentary mood is crushingly cynical or entirely optimistic, people want to hear it and can relate. Everyone who’s been around for any amount of time has experienced every emotion more often than you can imagine. And more people have struggled deeply than we know until someone breaks the ice first by candidly admitting the depths of their own despair.
In moments of clarity, I sincerely believe that this year and the struggles it’s thrown my way have been brought into my life for a reason. And recording that belief in writing is an important step; it freezes in time the feeling of relative calm and acceptance that sometimes seems so distant it may never be gripped again. That’s one of the chief duties of a writer: to reduce human experiences to essences that can be visited and revisited on command and to sacrifice their own privacy and best interest for a communal good. A pleasant side effect is that doing so is often the best thing for the self, too.
It’s astounding how often my most painful lows coincide with some random connection from a friend or stranger, or how often those coincidental conversations that occur when you see an acquaintance in a coffee shop contain some thoughtful substance that sticks with you. It’s easy to despair over the fact that only circumstance led to that moment, but in a way that’s the case no matter what. People pay far closer and more caring attention to us than we realize. I don’t know how to make the leap from thoughts and prayers to actionable solidarity, but it’s always a treat when someone does share that they’re thinking of you or is willing to ‘play ball’ when you offer up some depth and vulnerability beyond simply replying to “How are you?” with “I’m good!” And being thought about and prayed for counts for a lot more than we realize.