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.