One of the few things I forgot to post about the Weakerthans concert set in New York last month was how good the warmup music was. I don’t mean the opening bands, which were hit-and-miss, though Said the Whale the first night was pretty darn awesome. I mean the music they play over the tinny loudspeaker between said act and the main event. Not only did it occasionally include personal smashes like Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, but all four nights included the Mountain Goats’ personal anthem to, depending on how you look at it, mid-2010 to mid-2011, or probably more pertinently, just 2011 by itself, “This Year”.
Here, have a look and listen:
I know they didn’t write the song for me, really, any more than they wrote “No Children” for me. But the best music is about you, with all its rolling details and turns of phrase, and these are no exception. Although there is the ubiquitous soaking of alcohol in the Goats’ lyrics that doesn’t quite apply to me, no matter how close I came in New York that afternoon I landed from Liberia. The point, largely, is that this song seems a little more past tense than present, which is something. It’s not to say that I’ve made it, particularly, through anything other than a year. But reviewing 2011 seems a pointless exercise, while bidding 2011 farewell seems a bit more productive. The only thing that makes 2011 look like a tolerable year is that it wasn’t 2010.
What a great decade we’re off to.
I know last year at this time, when I sat down in this same room (my Mom’s lodge office) on this same computer (my then new laptop), I was emphasizing both looking forward to the West in the near future and not heaping pressure on myself to do much. Here, you can read along at home. Resolutions 2, 3, and 4 were basically entirely punted, a little bit because of 5, but almost entirely because 6 got altered in February when Farhan’s letter-writing campaign to the Rutgers administration turned into a full-time job and an indefinite lease on New Jersey for the foreseeable. How did I put those a year ago? “Significant reasons to stay.” The opportunity to actually make a living as a debate coach qualified, though I’m not sure I could have imagined it just a short 365 days ago.
What I think is most impressive about reading that last set of looking forward to this year is how much I overestimated the energy I’d have. Somehow writing a novel, trying to publish two prior ones, sinking myself into debate, and looking into Western cities seemed like a really minimal path. Maybe that says something about me, and I’ll grant that I went from spending 40-50 hours a week on debate to 70+ when the job came along, but I feel really overly ambitious in looking at that list. And I distinctly remember how constructing that list felt like cutting a lot of things and being really minimalist. The best conclusion I can draw is that you simply can’t understand how debilitating it is to go through a year and a half like the last one I’ve completed unless you’ve had a similar experience. Getting out of bed most mornings felt like a medal-worthy achievement. I’ve had several conversations with family and friends in the last month where I review a point in 2010 or 2011 and truly don’t understand how I lived through it. It’s like some deus ex machina that I don’t believe in some poorly written novel. There’s a gap in the action where the character randomly decides to ditch all his prior motivations and obvious conclusions and just keeps plugging along as though there’s some reason to. I don’t relate directly to the amount of despair I felt in most of the past year, but I also don’t quite fathom how I survived it.
Which makes looking ahead to next year a bit of a fool’s errand, except that there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last, to coin a phrase. I did once describe the entire project of blogging as giving myself the opportunity to look back a year later and see how stupid I was just a short year before. I wish I could find the exact reference or quote from sometime in the Introspection era, but I can’t. I may actually go to Jerusalem next year at some point, and/or Egypt, and/or India, and/or other possible places. Maybe I’ll hunker down and write a 4th book. Maybe I’ll never write again. The only constant of certainty is a certain amount of debate, and for that I am grateful. All of the highlights of 2011 revolve around a team that was not only the source of my strength in terms of self-confidence and enjoyment, but also friendship, camaraderie, and focus. RUDU spent the entire year in the top ten in the country, be it the top five of the last semester of 2010-2011 or the slightly lower rebuilding efforts of the past few months. We’re poised to not drop out of that perch for any of the foreseeable and some recent adjustments make me believe that we can have maybe our best semester yet open 2012.
What I don’t feel like doing for 2012 just yet is getting into specifics. Compared to 2011, there’s a lot that’s nailed down. I will be in Jersey the whole time. I’m not moving. I’m not changing jobs. I’m not doing much else besides maintaining the debate life I’ve built for myself. And I’m not complaining. I’ve been very fortunate that debate has gone as well as the rest of my life has gone poorly in the last 18 months. Every time the chips have been low in my life since 1990, I’ve doubled down on debate and gotten paid off. I don’t see an exception coming up. There may be only one thing in my life that I’m good at, but when you have the opportunity to focus on that and you really love it, that’s maybe all that you can ask for and expect out of life. Especially this year, in a global context, having confidence in a job and a community may put me ahead of most anyone. Perhaps most fully the person who I decided to excise from my life for a while in May. I have less curiosity about her life and her existence than I ever have since we met. It’s actually occurred to me for the first time in the last few weeks that I may live a long time and never want to reopen that line of communication. I don’t like giving up on people, but there are just some things in life that may be too awful to recover from. I’m not trying to turn this into a diatribe or an excoriation – it’s not becoming of a year-end wrap-up or a hopeful preview of the annum to come – but 2011 has helped me realize that maybe being the perpetual victim is not something I have to exacerbate. Emily may be right that “there’s just something about people that makes people betray [me]”, but that doesn’t mean I have to aid and abet the cause.
Maybe the better part of my personality is that which frenetically likes to dance, to throw myself into the cauldron and just doesn’t care what other people think. Emily said she spent a lot of time feeling very embarrassed by my behavior and attitudes in public. Maybe I should just live each day as though I were trying to embarrass Emily. She said I had a lot of growing up to do. If anything, I think I had to get even younger. Maybe the lesson of having someone excoriate and attempt to ruin your life is that embracing that very same life is the only ticket to hope. My reaction to Gwen’s constant lying was to start this entire effort to tell the truth, in painful detail, about everything. Maybe my reaction to Emily’s stressed-out concern for the opinions of others should be to ritually burn public opinion on a joyous pyre of the pursuit of life.
What better way to ring in the new year? What better way to embrace the fact of still traversing this crazy unpredictable forlorn but ever-hopeful planet?
This year didn’t kill me. People celebrate birthdays, holidays, and all other annual events most traditionally as a rallying cry for the fact that they remained alive, often against the odds. That plagues and storms, famines and droughts, wars and failures failed to dampen their spirits or take their last breath. So on the first day of 2012, I give you the full-throttled embracing of existence, maybe just for its own sake. It’s not what’s most important in life, but it does seem to be some sort of pre-requisite. As long as you keep walking the path, you might find your way. And you’re probably more likely to find your way if you’re dancing while you wait.