When I was a kid, I always ushered in the new year with such enthusiasm and elation, derived entirely from the fact that I would finally be able to write a new number down in the date on my homework. The months changed with too regular a frequency for me to give a shit, but I’d have to wait 365 days!! to be able to write something else in that far-right column, and it was a damn big deal to me.
But as a teenager, I adopted the same semi-pretentious nonchalance towards the new year as most of my friends and classmates. New year, new me? What is a year, anyway? And who am I? This pile of rocks swings ceaselessly around a burning star and I lay awake at night, staring at my stucco’d ceiling with my hands folded across my chest, content in the knowledge that life is pointless and I am arbitrary.
And listen, I confess to holding that view long past adolescence. Sure, a year is a convenient unit of measurement, and sure, I’ll never turn down the opportunity to ring in a new one in with good company and a beer or two (or three or four), but honestly, what even is a year, and why should any of us really give a damn? Time is a social construct after all, and yada yada, yada yada.
But the thing about social constructs is that, while they exist only within the realm of human comprehension, that doesn’t mean that any of us are actually free from them, no matter how enlightened or educated we claim ourselves to be. I mean, language is a social construct, for Christ’s sake. So here we are, hurtling around the sun, exposed to the seasons, and social construct or fact of nature, it does all mean something.
So, here’s a gratuitous list of things that happened to me, or to the folks around me, this year:
- I received a First on my dissertation after having spent most of the fall semester recovering from major surgery.
- I developed a severely troublesome preoccupation with the idea of death and for a couple of months, I did little else other than panic about my imminent demise.
- I got help.
- I began to feel better.
- My cousin died one day after turning 38.
- I graduated, again with a First.
- I rambled through Sweden and Denmark with my best pal for the better part of a month.
- My ma was diagnosed with breast cancer.
- I got the most casual of all casual jobs in order to make a quick buck and fund my travels.
- My ma “beat” breast cancer, if you would.
- My aunt died suddenly.
- I was unexpectedly blown to Scotland by my casual job.
- I finally completed my Goodreads reading challenge for the first time in, like, ever.
- I failed to do virtually everything else that I’d set out to do by the end of the year.
- I did some other beautiful things instead.
- And I did plenty of irresponsible things.
- I learned some stuff and know a little more about the world now than I did this time last year.
- By and large, I kept it together.
But more than all of this, 2016 was the first year in which I became absolutely conscious of the importance of the constraints that exist between January and December. Somewhere between the 23rd of June and Bastille Day, it occurred to me that, in the not-so-distant future, 2016 will probably take up just as much space in history textbooks as 1968 does now. It’ll be described as a turbulent year for certain, and any other words that’ll be applied to it will be dependant on whatever is set to follow.
2016 has been the first year (in my admittedly short life) that I’ve felt, so acutely, that I’ve actually been living through history. It’s been the first year that I’ve felt so sincerely the building up of tensions that have yet to climax.
Here’s a list, in case you’ve forgotten, of things that have happened to us all this year:
- The outbreak of Zika virus
- North Korea launching missiles all over the shop
- The bombing of Brussels
- The bombing of Lahore
- The bombing of Istanbul
- The shooting-up of Pulse in Orlando, Florida; the deadliest mass shooting in American history and one of at least 472 that have happened this year
- The absolute pointlessness of the Labour Party meltdown
- The drowning of refugees in the Mediterranean
- The attack on folks celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France
- The attempted coup in Turkey
- The mass-bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef
- The Syrian conflict, the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey
- The rise of far-right nationalism and xenophobia in the West
- The rise of racism and white supremacy in the United States
- Ongoing austerity, ongoing scapegoating, the selling off of the NHS, etc etc etc.
And here we are! At the end of it all, but also at the beginning.
It doesn’t matter that the universe doesn’t give a shit about us, and it doesn’t matter that a year is actually hardly anything more than a meteorological/astronomical event. There are seven-point-four billion people kicking about on the planet right now, the vast majority of whom possess a great lucidity of consciousness. We are all bound by the Georgian calendar. Some terrible shit has gone down in the world this year, and 2016 has mattered to everyone.
Back in 1968, American author & historian Susan Strasser was “literally too pessimistic to say ‘Happy New Year‘” to any of her pals. If we replace pessimism with an overarching feeling of despondent apathy (or is it apathetic despondency?), we’ve got me. Things are happening and there’s shit all I can do about it, but I’ll wish everyone a Happy New Year anyway, because what else can you do? Good riddance won’t work, because I understand that, though it may matter to us as people, a year means nothing to human folly and the unfolding of events. And hey ho, the Earth continues its unwavering journey around the sun.