SAYING GOODBYE TO 2008

Well, that’s it. The Year of the Rooster is finished.

I’m not going to write up here all the crazy, world-changing events that happened this year. It was one of those once-in-a-generation years that will continually define our world for a long time yet.

I’ve said all I need to say about my personal 2008 on here before. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to 2009 with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. It’s been a couple of rough years for me recently, but I’m feeling better now than I have in some time.

Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for 2009!

BACK TO BLOGS

It’s been a little bit since I last posted on here. Lots of stuff has been happening. Things are alright this Christmas.

I’m currently writing up a “Saying Goodbye” piece I usually write for the end-of-year, but it’s been a pretty decent month of December. Not a tremendous amount of personal chaos. I’ve been deliberating avoiding the news en masse this month, as I just wanted a nice holiday and not thinking too much about the economic downturn (ah, the glorious, all-encompassing euphemism) or the fact 2009’s looking like the toughest year for America and the Western World in decades.

Optimism is remarkably easier to achieve when you’re not as connected to the world sometimes.

THE QUESTIONNAIRE

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being at peace with myself. That and having an espresso while discussing ideas.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My tendency to obsess over things.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Hypocrisy.

What is your greatest extravagance?

My book collection (although I can’t imagine who would ever think it was an extravagance). That and my black leather jacket.

What is your current state of mind?

Uncertain.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Politeness. It’s often a euphemism and tool for not telling people the truth.

On what occasion do you lie?

During times when it’s not really anyone’s business and they’re not getting the hint.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

The fact I had no choice but to shave my head.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Curiosity and Intelligence.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Humour.

Which living person do you most admire?

Chez from Deus Ex Malcontent. Read his personal memoir and his blog. He’s an incredible person.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“That being said,” “Seemingly,” ” Regardless.”

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Haven’t figured that out yet. Life hasn’t made that part easy for me.

When and where were you happiest?

When I felt I was in control of my life. Needless to say, I’m working on getting back there.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Writing like Philip Roth.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d get my hair back.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Still working on it.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A cat. I’d like to see what it’s like.

Where would you like to live?

New York City, London or Montreal.

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Total, unabashed anguish.

What is your most marked characteristic?

A unique tendency to act, think and write as if everything means something.

Who are your favorite writers?

Roth, Michael Ondaatje, Joseph Boyden, Douglas Coupland, Michael Ignatieff, Gore Vidal.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Jean Valjean.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

King George VI of the U.K. He was dutiful, loyal and much-loved by the British people because he simply did his job and not because he was charismatic.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Sean Penn, my parents and brother.

What is your greatest regret?

Not fighting back often enough.


How would you like to die?

Very fast.

What is your motto?

Doubting yourself kills you a bit everyday.

2008

Well then. It’s December 1st and I’m feeling fine. Of course, with me, feeling fine refers to life in a Philip Roth sort of way: your connections to the world are confusing, fledgling perhaps, and tinged with a bit of self-discovery that comes with activities you’d never conceive of doing at one time. It’s all very self-indulgent, taming the beast sort of stuff I’m talking about. A lot of it is just the kind of things that remind you how strange a society we’re living in now.

For all the virtues we espouse collectively when it comes to personal freedom — writing on a blog, over-indulging and traveling to Anywhere But Here — the world in 2008 was collecting on some old debts. It was a year of payback, a little revenge and some absolution. Both as a society and on our own, there’s been a sense that a whole lot of long-dormant feuds, crises and other dramas were finally coming to a head. A few personal Sacred Cows got a major dose of reality and some much-needed rejection. Sometimes, as you get older, you need to let go of things you once held true to. They’re just reminders of something you once were – how does that help you move forward?

I know what all of that feels like.

For me, 2008’s been mostly about two things: just plain survival and some hard-hearted personal exploration. I’ve had some really bad things happen this year, stuff I can’t talk about on a public blog. Shit, that’s life. It’s not a fair or happy thing often enough. I’m not even angry about it. I’m just taking it in. Just adding it to the digital white noise of modern life. I don’t fear the Big Questions anymore — it’s just What Is now. I’ll face those Big Questions when I get to them.

Of course, all the unpleasant stuff that has happened this year has only strengthened my resolve and will. I’ve learned that people who hold grudges against others need to look at themselves too and their issues. I’m letting of my own grudges and past resentments, or at least really focusing on them. I’m no longer letting fear control and determine idiosyncrasies.

It’s been that kind of a year. It’s been a year of extremes.

Unlike 2007 – a year I couldn’t wait to see over – I’m leaving 2008 with a sense of optimism. Sure, the world’s economy is sinking faster than an iron chalice in a river, the Canadian government’s in a tail-spin of Palpatine-esque proportions and there’s been more than our fair share of bad stuff that’s happened to me and my family this year. It hasn’t been an overall happy year. It’s just a lot of changes coming at a million miles a minute, some good, some bad.

As I’ve said a few times on this blog, I truly believe that in order to understand a life’s work (or at least, a year of life’s work), you have to go back to the beginning.

On New Year’s Eve, I was at Nathan Phillips Square with a few friends. They were new friends I’d only met recently. Of course, two major events happened that night. The evening was cold, snowy and damp – a sub-zero harbinger of things to come. And I was forced into physically defending one of my friends from a drunk who took it upon himself to get a little too close and fresh, as it were. It was my first altercation since Halifax. Now I remember why they’re not something you should ever start, but should always finish.

Strange how you remember things like that – two very inconsequential events that bear no witness to a crazy year. But oddly, I think they spelled out what’s happened this year.

I’ve been forced to defend myself on several occasions this year, emotionally, physically and what-have-you. I’ve been braving the elements that the world’s been handing out to me and I’m stronger than ever.

Perhaps, on some level, all the challenges of the past two years have been some kind of secret, subtle set of lessons (no, it’s not a sign from God, as I’m an atheist.). It’s a private theory, sure, but 2007 was arguably one of the all-time worst years of my life. I sunk into a funk I’ve never experienced before. I was probing all the darkest sides of life, staring the Black Dog in the face. He was snarling and egging me on. But I wasn’t doing anything to save myself. I was just wallowing.

While 2008 seemed to feature a lot of bad stuff too, there’s a big difference between the years. I faced up to challenges this time. I refused to back down. I stopped being pre-occupied with things that don’t matter. And yes, there was conflict. There were people who didn’t deserve (and some who did) what I said to them. For a culture obsessed with the visual, the superficial and digital, it’s amazing how much words still matter.

They say learning to cope with this insane, fucked up, crazy world of ours is learning to adjust, learn from and deal with memory. I’m not saying being possessed by bad memories that halt your personal growth; I’m talking about sorting through your thoughts, feelings and ideas and accepting you never stop learning from those memories.

Maybe that’s what it’s all about: learning. It’s about accepting you’re not perfect, you never will be, and that life’s really all about learning to live with yourself. It’s a long, never-ending process, but it’s worth trying.

A final revelation: anybody who reads this blog knows about my semi-obsession with my all-time favourite show, Mad Men. There’s a lot of reasons why this show speaks to me: the brilliant, brilliant, I-would-die-to-write-them scripts, the fanatical obsession with authenticity, the intellectual heft the show embodies, the near-perfect casting.

Season Two of Mad Men was about Don coming to terms with himself and how his past behaviour hurts those around him. It was also about Don learning to live with all the conflicted, confusing aspects of his personae: the darker, self-obsessed Don Draper versus the compelling, kind, loving Dick Whitman.

Betty Draper too underwent a profound metamorphosis of character. She was angry at Don’s cheating, her long time resentment of feeling out of control of her own life finally coming to the surface.

In so many ways, I got where these characters were coming from. I get that sense of confusion, the idea of a conflicted sense of identity. The idea that you’re never truly, completely in control of your own life. The notion that once you accept the sometimes-painful waxing and waning of life’s fortunes, you’ll find that inner peace. The belief that all things too shall pass and return and repeat again.

Seems appropriate for 2008. Learning to accept the contradiction that life is.