Reading through year-end “best of” lists and my friends’ social media, it sometimes seems that it is not love, nor Christmas, but suffering that was all around.
And the more you read the more the feeling grows.
“We made it. Mostly. Kind of” was how Stereogum led their valedictory to the last 12 months best indie-music.
The rap reflection wasn’t much Saweetier, Complex warned it’s becoming “more difficult than ever” for fans to enjoy music “without guilt or conflict.”
At the Joy Theatre in New Orleans’ the late December marquee did not live up to its appellation, inviting passersby to Put 2021 In Tha Dumpsta.
My pal John Heilemann tweeted that “2021 couldn’t get more wretched” after the loss of our beloved Joan Didion and over on the gram an anxious zoomer instagay had an assessment that was even more dire, forewarning that 2022 is gonna SUCK too.
Fox, expectedly, had no shortage of grievances about the start of the Biden era, but they went above and beyond the call of duty dedicating an entire year-end wrap-up to the offenses both real and imagined that were committed by the human chunk of coal which sullied their stocking this year, Brian Stelter.
On the other hand you might imagine things weren’t so bad for the world’s 4th richest man in 2021. Bill Gates dropped from his #2 perch in the Richy Rich rankings but he did manage to become a cool $26 billy wealthier. Even still, Gates journaled that this was “the most unusual and difficult year of my life” and that he [suspects] a lot of the people reading this might say the same.” Gates’s annum of woebegone was not, in his telling, due to his drop in the Scroogeys, nor his high-profile divorce, but instead because of his lack of “human interaction'' due to social distancing.
To sum it all up Jolly Ol’ Dave Barry kicked off his eulogy for the year asking: “Is There Anything Positive We Can Say About 2021?”
And, well, I guess I’m forced to rebuke all the nattering naysayers and answer Barry’s rhetorical q with a . . . yes?!
There was a lot to like about our trip around the sun. Remember this? That was 2021! Pretty great!
In fact, every day brought a little something positive.
On Christmas I got to sidle up to the piano at Lafitte’s with a purple drink and shout rump uh pum pum with a guy dressed like a pirate and two pair of Dutch (Belgian? German?) revelers who all greeted us like old friends. The next day I caught Licorice Pizza, a glorious time warp. The following afternoon my little threenager greeted me at the airport with a big squeeze and then strutted down the concourse carrying her new Lightning McQueen suitcase with the unadulterated pride of a kid showing off their new grown-up ways.
If slightly toasted balladeering and the warm embrace of a toddler isn’t your pint o’ Joe, yesterday the magic of Christmas brought with it a little news we could all revel in.
At long last, the execrable Ghislaine Maxwell is going to rot in prison for her decades of abuse. We can all raise a glass to that. And who knows what pleasures today will bring!
This all might sound a bit cheeky to you; I’m not above a little cheek.
It’s not as if I don’t understand why all the Eeyore’s out there are giving 2021 low marks. There were the anti-vax death hustlers who traded the lives of untold thousands in exchange for some fleeting fame or a childish middle finger to some imagined liberal tyranny. Our friends who were abandoned to the whims of the monstrous Taliban. The horrific genocide in Tigray. The wrongly imprisoned. The victims of our out-of-control gun culture. The kids who missed their prom or graduation last spring. The grandparents who are being denied a couple of the too few years they get with their angelic progeny. The hurt family members who couldn’t get through to the ones they loved in time.
We know all the stories by now. Every gripe and concern carries its own legitimacy. In fact, the venerable journal of ideas you are reading now has an entire newsletter offering wall-to-wall coverage of the coming dystopia (which you can get Every Single Day in your inbox, alongside my occasional musings, if you sign-up for Bulwark+ today!)
But it seems to me that Trump and COVID have conspired with the little geniuses in our pockets to create an all-consuming, suffocating focus on this badness, even when we should be letting a little light in our lives. I worry that there are consequences to all this macabre knowledge that we aren’t fully appreciating.
Throughout history there has been a lament about the burdens of the learned.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Dostoyevsky: “pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.” Jen Lindley: “You’re too smart for your own good, Dawson.”
In 2021 we are bombarded with the trauma of everyone around us and it can start to feel like it’s our own even in the times when we are filled with contentments. For those with any heart at all, this pain feels impossible to ignore. It fills us with worry and guilt.
But my hope for 2022 is that we begin to find a way forward that acknowledges and addresses the pain around us without feeling that we must constantly “center” it. Empathy does not require asceticism. It doesn’t mandate that any celebration of the year’s triumphs begin with a throat clearing lamentation regarding the sad beautiful tragicness of it all.
At the end of our first pandemic year I wrote to “caution us all not to go looking for a New Worst in 2021. Not to let ourselves get flattened into an unhealthy digital myopia that makes us addicted to the idea that it’s all The Worst.”
But it seems as if that is exactly what we have done. It is an instinct that together we should all make an effort to fight.
We must find ways to channel our Twitter-given knowledge of the threats and horrors around us into action and change that raises our collective spirit.
Failing at that is going to lead us all to a dark place, because a culture that does not offer hope and comfort and uplift alongside suffering will not survive. It will be upended and replaced by the people who were radicalized by the cocoon of pain in which they were made to feel trapped.
So with that cheery send-off, I wish you all a New Year filled with blessings, good tidings, and hopefully the opportunity to watch a return to greatness on the gridiron in Baton Rouge.